12 January 2013

The gardener indoors

This time of year, there are two types of gardening going on in Nova Scotia (and most of eastern North America): the planning of next spring's garden's, and gardening with houseplants. 
When I was a student at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, my residence room was always chockful of plants, ranging in size from tiny succulents like lithops (living stones) to large hanging plants and tough tropicals like rubber and fig trees. (No, there were no illegal plants in my room, thanks for asking). There were a few flowering plants like African violets, but nothing like the choice for flowering options we have these days.

Winter is not my strong suit, but some years ago I began an earnest attempt to get through it in an easier manner than I formerly did. I tend to purchase fresh flowers every couple of weeks, and have those around the house, but I also focus on plenty of flowering plants. Some of my favourites are included in this post.

These are some of what we call the 'grocery store primulas': little pots of colourful hybrids that appear like clockwork in winter in grocery and department stores. These are hybrids that tend to be quite quick to grow from seed (as little as four months from seed to flower) and often they succumb to the rather inhospitable growing conditions of most houses. They don't like hot, dry conditions, or little light. 
You have a couple of options where these plants are concerned: enjoy them until they start to falter, treat them like bouquets and compost them when they are spent...or you can nurture them onwards through the winter. When spring comes, if they have survived, plant them outside--depending on their background species, they may well settle in and bloom for many years to come. 
 It happens that I don't like my house too warm, and I have plenty of windows. My primula enjoy a bright, but not directly sunny, window in my library/office, which is a cool and pleasant room. You need to water them regularly, never letting them dry out. But also, take them out of those cheap and cheerful, colourful but hole-less pots that they are often set into, and put a saucer under the inner green plastic pot. This will allow excess water to drain away from the soil, preventing the risk of root-rot. If you use a mist bottle on your plants, spritz your primulas daily, especially if yours is a warm, dry house.
 I feed all my flowering houseplants throughout the winter, using a half-strength solution of Seaboost (liquid seaweed fertilizer). I also use 1/4 to 1/2 strength Seaboost in my misting bottle, so the plants get a gentle foliar feed as well as through the roots.
With a little luck and care, you should be able to nurture your primulas through the winter, and then can plant them outdoors come spring. 
I have a growing interest in primulas, which was furthered by meeting Pam Eveleigh of Primula World when she was here in Nova Scotia last autumn. I've written an article on primulas for indoors and out in the newest issue of Saltscapes magazine, too. 
 One of the greatest improvements in the houseplant world these days is the readily available number of orchids that are on the market. While some orchids can require very precise growing conditions and not be well suited for most home conditions, phalaenopsis or moth orchids are easy to grow and will bloom for many months on end.

I've written about moth orchids before, and my infatuation with them continues. Breeders are doing some fascinating things with colours and patterns, and because of tissue culturing, the prices have come way, way down on these plants. I've added several to my collection recently, while others are pushing new flower stems and buds so I can look forward to a very long show of colour.

Phalaenopsis don't need it as hot, humid, and bright as many other types of orchids; they will tolerate cool home temperatures, north or east light (and too MUCH light is actually not great for these plants), and just need to be watered once a week or so. You will need to repot them with fresh bark every year or so, but the plants are really easy and so very rewarding to grow. I put the non-flowering orchids outdoors for the summer, in a lightly shaded spot, so they get a nice dose of warm air and natural light without getting any direct sunlight. Those are the plants that are now pushing new flowering stems...something to look forward to in the coming weeks. 
While I've already set several poinsettias outdoors for some January air (these were inexpensive plants that weren't worth keeping through the winter), this huge, pink variety is doing so very well that I intend to keep it going. I'll put it outdoors for the summer as well, and maybe next fall will be able to encourage it to produce a fresh set of brightly coloured bracts, and petite flowers, once again.

That's enough for this time! What are your favourite flowering plants for enjoying through the winter?


  1. That's a truly lovely little collection of Primulas, and they look they're really enjoying their life indoors.

    Out of all your indoor blooms featured today though, my favourite is definitely that beautiful cream and purple Orchid.

    In my part of the world it's summertime, but it's not really conducive for loads of time spent gardening outdoors.

    I'm indoors during most of the day, enjoying the air-con. Thankfully there are a lot of plants that are still flowering despite the horrid conditions, and without a lot of care from me.

  2. Jodi, I just saw primulas at the grocery store not a day ago for only two dollars each and had to pull myself away from them. I figured they would up and die in my house but given what you've said I just might give one a try.

  3. Such bright, smiling plants to cheer the winter months.
    When we lived in Canada, I had a whole collection of African violets, all grown from leaf cuttings from friends.

  4. Jodi where do you buy your houseplants? I've had such bad luck bringing plants home.

  5. My thoughts have also turned to indoor plants. I have small orchids. They are just darling and are blooming now.

  6. I love the primulas too Jodi. I think that the paler ones have stronger scents -- am I right ? I didn't know orchids bloomed for that long. I think I'll be brave and buy one. Thanks for the guidance.

  7. Those miniature cyclamen are a favourite with me. I haven't had much success getting them to bloom a second time, but given that they bloom beautifully for almost two months when I get them, so what! It wouldn't be Christmas without a white one and at least one red one on my kitchen window sill.

    Then I do like the amaryllis.... maybe I don't really need 50+ pots of them, but hey. They perk up the plant shed no end in January and February.

    Glad you're back, Jodi!

  8. Marjorie Burnet13 January, 2013 17:21

    I have recently been adopted by my granddaughter's orchids. They have no labels but their flowers seem to be of that "moth" variety. One pot has developed "babies" - one on both stems. Any info at all on how to nurse these babies along would be so appreciated.

  9. I am busily working on indoor gardening and plans for the warm up soon...

  10. Maybe I should try primulas. Winter jasmine is a nice one. When it blooms it perfumes the room for weeks. I just noticed the thunbergia I am overwintering in the basement is blooming!!! it did not bloom once this summer, but in January????

  11. Winter is not my strong suit either. But it looks like you have much more luck with indoor plants than I do. Your Primroses are incredible!

  12. I usually start purchasing flowering plants around now to get me through the rest of winter, but this year I've been trying to keep busy when I get home from work to avoid the winter slumps. So far it's working.


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