While the outdoor world enjoys its winter rest, my green interests turn to houseplants that bloom during the dead season. A blooming plant will make any room feel more vibrant and alive, and research shows that being around plants promotes calmness, and can even increase pain tolerance and recovery from illness. Plants help clean indoor air via their natural respiration processes, plus much more. According to Virginia Lohr, Professor of Horticulture at Washington State University, houseplants improve mental functioning in adults and children, reduce domestic violence, and make us more civilised people.
As various houseplants have come and gone from my life, I’ve found that the ones I value most bloom in winter, when I’m stuck inside, and then come back and do it again, year after year. Here I’ll introduce you to my three favourites, in order of bloom: holiday cactus, kalanchoe, and amaryllis. Think of them as indoor perennials that get bigger and better with time.
Happy Holiday Cactus
A few decades ago, holiday cacti could be separated by dominant species, which varied in their bloom times from late autumn (Thanksgiving cactus) to winter (Christmas cactus) to spring (Easter cactus). But as plant breeders have tweaked Schlumbergera genes toward bigger and better flower production, these lines have blurred considerably.
When I was forced to choose only one holiday cactus from my growing collection several years ago, I chose a pink and white double that blooms intermittently from November through March. I keep my holiday cactus in a sunny window year-round, but you also can let plants spend summer outdoors in a shady spot. The important thing is to allow the plants exposure to changing day length, because the long nights of fall trigger bud production in holiday cacti.
If you have a new holiday cactus that has finished blooming, allow it to rest in a cool spot with only light watering for a couple of weeks. Then give it a good soaking and return it to warm, bright light. The plant may surprise you by popping some pretty blooms in late winter.
The easiest succulents to bring back into bloom every winter, kalanchoes (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana hybrids) crown themselves with red, pink, white or orange flowers in late winter. Greenhouse growers use light regimens to force kalanchoes to start blooming in autumn, but under normal conditions the first blooms will appear around the New Year, with more bloom clusters emerging until early summer.
I find that kalanchoes are among the best plants to move to a shady place outdoors in summer. Like holiday cacti, kalanchoes pick up growth cues from changes in day length, and often put on considerable new growth in warm summer weather. You won’t need but one or two plants to get a great show of long-lasting, waxy blossoms from kalanchoes.
I won my first amaryllis bulb playing a game of Dirty Santa, and I’ve been hooked on them ever since. Portly amaryllis bulbs produce huge, showy blooms about 6 weeks after planting (or resurrecting), with strong bulbs often producing two big flower spikes.
The problem comes after that, when you have big, floppy plants that must be kept indoors, in good light, until the last hard freeze has passed. This inconvenience is tolerable for a year, but after that you can schedule your amaryllis to bloom later, in February or March, which I think is better for the bulbs and results in less time tripping over the plants indoors. I let my potted amaryllis spend summer outdoors in a shady spot, and move them to dry shade in late September. They rest in the cool basement through winter, getting by on only dribbles of water. I bring them into warm light as soon as the holiday decorations are packed away, and they bloom six weeks later.
Go ahead. Boost your mood during winter’s dark days with a winter blooming houseplant. It’s good medicine.