Surviving the winter weather

Wintertime can be hard on inside plants as well as those outside. The dry air of our homes can stress delicate plants, and the low light levels of this time of year can also wear on them. Here are some ways to encourage your favorite flowering plants to make it to spring in better health.

African violets love lots of light, which can be provided with as little as a 60-watt light shining on the plant from a distance of two feet for 18 hours a day; this is easily done by placing the plant near a lamp that can be left on.

Remember to keep the plants warm, they are of tropical origin and will visibly wilt if the temperature is below 50 degrees. Be sure not to overwater, letting the soil dry to the touch before watering from the base of the pot, and fertilize with half-strength fertilizer or specially designed African violet food. You will be rewarded with a continuing bouquet of blossoms.

Many people now grow orchids and some of the most popular are the Phalenopsis, Odontoglossum and the Cymbidium. Each of these is fairly easy for the amateur grower. Phalenopsis have a basal set of leaves from which emerges a long stalk bearing as many as 20 flowers. Phals need a reasonably warm room, around 65 to 70 degrees. They usually bloom in white, pink, magenta or pale yellows just once a year, but the blossoms last as long as six weeks.

Odontoglossum store water in their pseudobulbs and bloom in yellows and oranges for about a month. One variety called "Sherrie Baby" has white and burgundy blooms, and smells like chocolate. They prefer a cooler room or nearer the window for the cooling effect it has, nearer 50 degrees.

Cymbidiums have strap-like leaves from a thick root system and can be pale pinks, striped, white, green, yellow or burgundy/brown and must have a cooling down each year. They also do well in a cool room.

Each of the above-mentioned orchids does well in a well-lit window, but not in direct sun. Feed every other watering with half-strength fertilizer or time-release fertilizer sticks. Each of these plants will benefit from being placed outside during the summer and brought in late in the fall just before the first freeze.

Amaryllis are a favorite holiday blooming plant. These rather expensive bulbs can last more than one year with a little planning. Begin with the biggest bulbs you can find. Start them like you do an avocado seed, but just rest the bulb on the edge of a large glass or jar (no toothpicks, please) making sure that the bottom of the bulb is in contact with the water. As soon as the roots appear, plant in rich potting soil — one with added fertilizer — in a pot just barely bigger than the bulb. Keep it in a dark corner until the leaves start emerging, and then move into bright light. It can take some sun in an east-facing window. Water regularly as the top dries out and fertilize weekly with a weak solution, or use time-release fertilizer sticks. Turn the pot regularly so the flower stalk doesn’t tip to one side. When the blossom has wilted, trim off the stalk at the base and place the pot in an out-of-the-way place until the leaves wither and turn brown. Store in the pot until you notice new leaves emerging. Top off with a little new potting soil, start watering and you should be rewarded with another flowering cycle.

Linda Stephens-Urbaniak can be reached at and is a regular contributor to the Mercer Island Reporter

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