Updated: Feb 7
As the Autumn colors fade and the deciduous trees and shrubs lose their leaves during the winter, we can bring some of this missing color inside our homes with plants that are the most vibrant during the winter months. As long as you have a nice sunny window in your home, you can grow flowering plants indoors. Plants that flower during the fall and winter months are called short day plants. Short day plants flower when they sense short day lengths (twelve hours or less) during the fall and winter months. Here are five plants whose winter foliage and blooms can liven up your home during the dark winter months.
Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
Poinsettias are one of the most iconic plants for the holiday season because of their deep red foliage that adds a festive pop of color to the home. The red foliage are not flowers, but the leaf-like bracts of the plant. These bracts turn red or pink in color during the fall as a response to shorter day lengths when the plant is not receiving enough sunlight to produce chlorophyll which is what gives plants their green color. After the holidays and in the spring when daylight hours lengthen, your poinsettia will lose its red pigment and revert back to being fully green. Care for your poinsettia through the spring and summer by keeping the soil evenly moist, placing the plant near a window where it gets bright light most of the day and preventing drafts from vents and open windows from blowing on the plant. Dry air from vents and open windows can quickly dry out the leaves. To encourage your poinsettia to develop its red pigment again during the holiday season, allow the plant 16-hrs of uninterrupted dark periods each day followed by 8 hours of bright light 6 to 8 weeks before you want it to redden.
Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera)
The Christmas Cactus is not a true cactus, but a semi-tropical succulent native to the mountains of Brazil. It commonly blooms around the holidays in response to shorter day lengths. Much like the Poinsettia, your Christmas Cactus needs 16-hours of uninterrupted darkness followed by 8-hours of light each day to bloom. The flowers can be red, white or pink and develop at the tips of each leaf. Care for this succulent throughout the spring and summer by keeping the soil evenly moist and placing it close to a window or on a patio where it gets bright, sunny conditions most of the day. Many people under water this plant by mistakenly caring for it like a desert cactus. This will result in wrinkled leaves and leaf drop.
Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla)
These cute little trees resemble miniature Christmas trees, but are not actually true Pines as their name suggests. Norfolk Island Pines are tropical, coniferous trees native to Norfolk Island near Australia where they grow on seaside cliffs. It is best to keep these trees indoors during the colder months when temperatures dip below 50 degrees as they cannot survive these cold temperatures for long periods of time. Care for a Norfolk Island Pine like you would most other houseplants by keeping the soil evenly moist and placing it near a window where it gets bright light most of the day. Rotate the tree every couple of weeks to keep the growth even on all sides. Fertilize your tree March through September with a liquid fertilizer each time you water. Keep your Norfolk Island Pine away from vent and window drafts to keep the needles from drying out. If the tips of your tree’s branches become brown and dry, prune them back to the greenest part of the stem. New growth will develop from this cut point.
Amaryllises are another winter flowering plant that can be grown indoors. Amaryllises are perennial flowering bulbs that are native to South Africa. The plant’s growth forms at the top of the bulb and consists of green, strap-like leaves and multiple flower stalks that can produce up to four blooms on each stalk. The flowers come in a variety of colors such as bright white, reds and purples and can grow between 4-10” in diameter. You can allow your amaryllis bulbs to grow year round or you can manipulate them into flowering at specific times by allowing the bulb to go dormant. In order to get your Amaryllis to bloom by Christmas, keep the bulb in a dark, dry environment for 2-3 months during the summer. 6-8 weeks before you want your Amaryllis to bloom, plant the bulb in soil and place it in a sunny window. Amaryllises like to be pretty snug in their pots, so plant them in a pot that is only about one inch larger in diameter than the bulb and twice as deep as the bulb for root growth. Bury the bulb ⅓-½ into the soil and keep the soil evenly moist. Fertilize each time you water with a liquid fertilizer designed for flowering plants, especially during the period when the plant is actively growing after it comes out of dormancy. For the most successful blooms, provide your Amaryllis with as much sunlight as possible in your home. Once the flower stalks and leaves begin to yellow and die after blooming, cut them back to the bulb to encourage new growth. If you will be storing your bulbs until the following year, take the bulbs out of the soil and place them in a dark, dry environment. If you plan on growing your amaryllis year round, keep the bulb in the soil after you cut back the dead growth and new growth will form from the top of the bulb.
Christmas Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana)
This easy growing succulent is another short day flowering plant that can readily be found around the holidays because of its ability to flower during the winter months. The Christmas Kalanchoe can be manipulated into flowering at a specific time such as Christmas by allowing the plant only 10-hours of daylight and 14-hours of uninterrupted darkness. There are many different hybridized varieties on the market with flowers that range in color from reds, pinks, yellow, purple and white. After the flowers die, cut the stalks all the way back to the base of the plant as they will also begin to brown and die after flowering. You can also prune back any growth that has become ‘leggy’ for a more condensed look. The less sunlight the plant receives, the ‘leggier’ the stems will become as they stretch for sunlight. After the holidays have passed and the days become longer, keep your Christmas Kalanchoe in a south or west facing window for the remainder of the year. Repot into a coarse soil designed for succulents and only water when the soil dries out. Since this plant is a succulent, it can easily rot from excess soil moisture.
If you have any more questions about how to care for winter blooming plants, we will be happy to assist you in a virtual telehealth appointment with one of our Plant Specialists. Please click on one of the options below to book an appointment.