Two very different bloomers for indoors

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By Jeneen Wiche

Many of our tropical houseplants aren't so happy indoors during the winter. Low light levels and low humidity are contrary to there tropical nature.

There are some plants in the house, however, that don't seem to be phased by indoor winter conditions.

If you have moderate light you can maintain a nearly non-stop bloom cycle with African violets. Their fleshy, fuzzy leaves are their defense against lack of humidity; and with adequate sunlight, some fertilizer and well-drained soil you can keep them blooming all year round.

A regular dose of diluted fertilizer supplies the plant with nutrients but chlorine and salt from soft water can be damaging so let your water sit out for a couple of days to allow for some evaporation (we are on a cistern here so I don't have to worry about that). Water your violet when the top of the soil dries out and avoid getting it on the fuzzy foliage.

About once a month flush the soil with a heavy watering, letting the water run through the drainage holes. This will flush any salt build up.

Violets like to be pot-bound, it encourages bloom, so don't worry if the plant looks like it is spilling out of the pot.

Put the plant in a bright window, out of direct sunlight (which can burn the foliage); the more hours of bright light it receives, the more blooms you'll enjoy.

Another category of plants that have proven to be interesting bloomers indoors during the winter is my succulent collection.

Everyone spends the summer months outside (where they are exceptional container plants because they are bold in character and require little water) but need to be wintered indoors. It is here that they show their blooms.

Succulents have adapted to an arid environment so they require little water or humidity.  They store moisture in their fleshy leaves, stems and roots, using it sparingly when needed. Some grow fast, some slow; some bloom in summer, others in winter.  Their shape, texture and color vary, as well, but the overall effect is the same...fleshy.

While there are some species that are hardy in Kentuckiana most prefer a climate that does not drop below about 40 degrees F.

The shape of the plant reveals a bit about its life without much water. Cupped leaves funnel moisture collected from rainfall or the morning dew directly to the roots; vertical orientation reduces the amount of leaf surface exposed to the sun; spines and thorns (most often found on cacti) also catch moisture and shade the plant.

One succulent winter bloomer to consider for next spring is Bryophyllum daigremontianum, also know as the Mexican hat plant or mother of thousands.

The unusual thing about this succulent (it grows tall and straight with pennant-like leaves along the main stem) is that there are plantlets that grow along the margin of each leaf.  They are dropping to the soil now, by spring all the babies will have rooted beneath their mother. The best thing about mother of thousands now, however, is her bloom.

This is where it makes more sense calling her Mexican hat because the bloom spike bares a large hat-shaped cluster of coral and red bells.

Any succulent in the Crassula family is a good choice, too. The fleshy leaves of this genus often look like perfectly stacked puzzle pieces. Blooms appear in the winter, usually, reddish to pinkish clusters sprout from the center of the stacked leaves.

These succulents remind me of contemporary architecture found in some large Asian cities.

Cultivated varieties have names that prove rather descriptive like "Buddha's Temple," "Baby Necklace" and "Jade Tower."