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Horticulture Tips

Houseplants Chase Away The Winter Blahs

By Lelia Kelly, David Nagel

Winter can be a dreary, dull time for energetic gardeners. If you are like me, looking through those new plant catalogs has just about gotten you worked into a horticultural froth. Until the weather moderates and you can get outside to do some real gardening, how about relieving the stressful need to do something horticultural by buying a colorful blooming houseplant to enjoy. 

Some of these you can only find during the winter months at garden centers, florist shops, even grocery stores. One of my favorites is the florist type azaleas which are so named because they’re supposed to be only indoor plants. But, I have found these to be hardy outdoors down to about 15 degrees. These plants are offered in colors of red, pink, rose, and bi-colors. They bloom much longer than regular azaleas, starting in winter and continuing through spring. You can buy cute little plants in 3 and 4 inch pots, perfect for displaying atop a small table. Florist azaleas need lots of bright light, preferably from a southern window.  Keep the soil evenly moist. Good drainage is a must.  Don’t feed the plants until six weeks after they finish blooming.  Then feed every two weeks with a general-purpose houseplant fertilizer. In fall, switch to a bloom-booster fertilizer, such as 15-30-15, that’s higher in phosphorus than nitrogen. If you’d like to plant these azaleas outside in the spring, wait until after the last frost.

Another indoor plant with really showy blooms is the Rieger begonias (Begonia x hiemalis.) Their single or double blooms will make you think of rose blossoms. And they span nearly as wide a color range, coming in pink, rose, red, orange, yellow, and white. Riegers need bright light to bloom well, but protect them from hot, afternoon sun, which can burn and curl the leaves.  Good drainage is essential.  Allow the soil surface to dry between watering. Be careful not to overwater, which causes rot. Also, never wet the foliage. While your begonia is blooming, feed it every watering with water soluble, bloom-booster fertilizer. 

When the plant stops blooming, it’s ready for a three-month rest. Cease feeding and cut the stem to 3 inches above the soil line. When new growth appears, resume regular watering and feeding.  

One spectacular blooming plant to look for is the cineraria (Senecio cruentus.) These have blooms that are almost too perfect to be real. The daisy like blooms can be blue, pink, or red and nearly smother the foliage. This is one you probably won’t find except during the winter months because they love cool temperatures, but also bright light.

 Watering them can be a bit tricky. If you overwater, they’ll rot. But if you underwater they’ll wilt almost immediately. Let the soil surface dry slightly between watering and be sure the container drains freely.  You folks who do not like to coddle houseplants to get them to rebloom are going to love this one, as after it finishes blooming just chunk it in the compost.  These are short-lived annuals—just think of it as  a glorified cut flower and you’ll feel better about tossing it.


Inspect your vegetable plants in the garden for aphids. These sap sucking insects are taking advantage of the  plant growth from warmer temperatures and colonizing the underside of leaves. They can be washed away with a strong stream of water or killed with an application of insecticidal soap. Don’t use dish washing liquid. The detergents and surfactants that make the dishes so clean will remove the wax from the leaves.

You might be able to convince your garden center to order some potatoes for planting even now. Some of the seed suppliers have established warehouses in Arizona and other south western states that allows shipment this time of year.

Consider planting a savoy leafed cabbage in your spring garden. Recent research has shown savoy leafed cabbaged to be a little higher in cancer fighting compounds than regular head cabbage, The crinkled leaves make a milder,  less dense cole slaw then regular cabbage, broccoli stems or kohlrabi. To get the most benefit from the natural anti-cancer compounds eat cabbage family vegetables raw, steamed, or briefly cooked since long exposure to heat will lessen the effectiveness of the compounds.


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