In a previous column I wrote about plants that bloom in the winter time.  I talked about The Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milie), Red Cats Tail, or Chenille Plant (Acalypha hispida), Kolanchoe blossfeldiana, Hindu Rope Plant or Wax Plant (Hoya carnosa), and Begonias. Today I want to talk about some more plants that bloom in the winter time.

          First, someone sent a message to say that I left out orchids in my first article on plants that bloom inside in the winter. Many people are afraid to try orchids as they may get one as a gift and it never blooms again. However, there are some fairly easy to bloom. For me it is the Moth orchid (Phalaenopsis) or the Lady Slipper (Paphiopedilum). Neither is as demanding about conditions as some of the others. Both can grow in medium light windows and both like a cool periods in the fall to get buds started. Both enjoy a high humidity and an often, weak fertilizer during long days.  Both will grow well under lights. Their flowers may last several months when they are happy and both come in many colors in a medium size pot. There are various formulas for bark, perlite, and sphagnum moss. Once the bud forms on a Phalaenopsis do not turn them or you may get a twisted stem as they head for the light. To see various kinds and talk to those who have them go to the Orchid Society which meets on the last Wednesday of the month at Madonna.  They bring their blooming orchids and explain how they were “reared”. New members are given an orchid plant.  The purpose of the club is to help new members.  At the meeting you will see orchids from 2 inches tall (in bloom) to six foot ones.

          When I first saw a blooming Kangeroo Paw plant my first thought was “what a funny looking thing”. But its blooms were so different, and the color was gold to match a new huge (!) pot I had been given, so I took one home with me!! Anigozanthos pulchevrinus is from Australia, has those gold blooms with red whiskers along the edges. This is how it got its name, because the hairy flowers resemble kangaroo’s feet. (I can’t check it out as I have never been very close to a kangaroo but if I ever do I will check its feet.) It has long slender leaves. This fall I needed to move mine to a pot in the house, so I cut off the blooms and dug it up. It had a very healthy root system and seems to be doing well.  It likes (1) strong light but not direct sun; (2) slightly acid soil (damp soil in summer and a little drier in the winter); (3) acid fertilizer during the summer and very little in the winter until the days are getting longer.        

          The Gloxinia (Sunningia hybrids) is a native of Brazil. They come from a tuber that usually blooms in the summer but with good timing you can have blooms in the winter. In spring you can secure the tubers, and then store them in a cool place then have them bloom in winter. It is not an easy plant. If you spray the leaves or flowers they will develop brown spots. Too much water encourages root rot, and sunlight will burn the long, dark green, soft and hairy leaves. It likes slightly acid soil and watering with warm water to keep the soil damp (not wet). After blooming which can last two months, cut down on water until the leaves turn yellow, then turn the pot on its side and let it rest.  When it starts growing, start watering again.  Do not get any water in the hollow (top) part of the tuber or you will cause it to rot.

          They come in a number of colors and some have a white rim around the edge of the blossom.  A Gloxinia will do better in high humidity. To do this you can put their pot on top of a graveled container, but the pot should not be in the water.  Another way is to have them among several other plants.

          Many of us have the hardy Hibiscus in our yards that grow 4 feet across and 5 feet high with dinner plate size blooms. Most of the time they are the very last plant to show up in the spring. There are also a number who have had the tender hibiscus that has to be carried in each fall.  Some of the house hibiscus come in rather bizarre color combinations and require a large pot in order to grow well. Most of them have been treated with a growth retardant that is used up and done after the first year, so they will try to reach ten feet tall. Just as I turn the other house plants, I try to turn these at least once a week or they will grow very lopsided and their roots come through the drainage holes. (Turning most of your indoor house plants weekly, or at least every other week, is necessary or they start leaning toward the light. Usually turning the pot one-fourth of a turn is sufficient.)          The tropical hibiscus are the favorite food of white flies which have gotten so bad I have had to put some plants out to freeze.  To prevent this you need to watch carefully, spray them with insecticidal soap, and use a systemic insecticide in the soil.  If I am a winter success, I prune them back quite a bit in the spring, put them in a sunny but protected place to develop a bushy plant for winter blooming.  They need plenty of water during their summer vacation.  Quite often they drop their leaves when you move them.  If the roots get dry or too wet or the plant gets too cold they will drop their buds.  You can start a new plant from stem cuttings.

          For more information contact your Local County Extension Office, or go on the internet to  In the top box scroll down to “Extension”.  In the bottom box type in the name of the plant, or the subject, or the number of the publication.

          Iowa State University Extension also has a good web site. Go to Type in the name of the plant, or the subject, or the number of the publication in the search box. Both of these websites are a valuable resource and the avid gardener should bookmark them. In the search box type in the name of the plant, tree, shrub, disease, insect, flower, or vegetable and a list of publications will appear. You can print them off or download this University based information for free.

Copyright Dec. 3, 2005