The Iowa Gardener: Care for indoor flowering plants

Whether you are giving an indoor flowering plant as a gift or have received one, it’s good to know a few basics about the care and life span of beautiful poinsettias, miniature roses, cyclamens, gardenias, lilies, azaleas, orchids, tulips and others.

Most plants sold in full flower in the winter will flower and remain healthy and gorgeous for a few weeks. They are bred and forced into bloom specifically for a short, glorious show and then stop flowering.

You can, of course, keep the foliage and nurse it along for a few to several months, but it’s difficult for most home gardeners to provide just the right, precise conditions to prompt a second bloom, which would likely happen in another year or so. Indoor blooming plants are sold with expectation that you’ll enjoy it for two to six weeks and then discard the plant.

While you do have one of these beautiful plants, you can keep it at its best longer by doing a few simple things:

l When you purchase the plant, before you take it outside, make sure the clerk puts it in a bag, plastic or paper that completely covers the plant. Staple or tape shut. Temperatures below even 40 degrees can damage some of these tender plants. Take it back indoors promptly and cover it again if you are taking it to someone’s as a gift.

l Place the plant where it won’t be subjected to cold drafts from a window, an open door or hot air from a heat vent or fireplace. All these can stress the plant and visibly damage it.

l Keep soil moist but not soggy. Check soil moisture by wiggling your finger a half inch or so into the soil. If it’s lightly moist, great. If it feels dry, add some water.

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l It’s better to water more often to keep the soil evenly moist rather than letting the soil get bone dry and then watering. Never let the plant get so dry that its leaves droop. That shortens its bloom time and diminishes its appearance.

l No need to put the plant in a sunny place. At this point, the plant is near the end of its useful life. Too much direct, unfiltered sun, in fact, can “bake” the flowers and damage them.

The exceptions to the above are orchids, African violets, and Christmas cactus. Some orchids and African violets can be fussy, but those sold widely in non-specialty stores and supermarkets are usually easy care and will bloom for three or more months. Christmas cactus will bloom just for two or three weeks, but then makes a perfectly nice, easy houseplant if you choose to keep it after that. It typically will rebloom again each winter.

l Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of The Iowa Gardener website at theiowagardener.com.

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