Waiting for Flowers

January 1, 2015

Some enthusiastic houseplants bloom in almost any situation. Others are finicky, needing conditions “just so” before they’ll blossom. Listen to learn how you can encourage these fusspot plants to form flowers.

This segment of The Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Musings podcast series was written by George and Becky Lohmiller and is read by Heidi Stonehill, an Almanac editor.


            Why is it that so many people, even avid flower gardeners, often have problems getting plants to bloom in their homes?  Just as it is with outdoor gardening, successfully growing house plants and getting them to flower boils down to choosing the right plants for the conditions they will be living in.

            Houseplants need just the right mix of light, humidity, and temperature for dependable flowering.  Light is by far the hardest factor to control in your home.  To grow a variety of plants that may require different amounts of light, choose the sunniest room in your house.  Place plants that need a lot of light like geraniums, crossandra, and kalanchoe next to a window and display begonias, cyclamen, and other plants that have lower light requirements further back in the room.  If you need to add brightness to a room; try painting the walls a lighter color or hanging large mirrors.

            Many homes, especially in the winter lack the humidity that houseplants need.  Low humidity may cause buds to blast (dry up) before they open.  An easy fix is to set potted plants on pebbles in a tray of water to create a moist mini-environment around them.

            Most houseplants will flower over a broad range of temperature, but some have exacting requirements.  Gardenias, for example, are finicky and may produce malformed flower buds if temperatures fall much below 55°F and may drop them altogether if exposed to too much heat.  Before purchasing any houseplant be sure that it will grow under the conditions in your home.

            There are a lot of house plants that are just blooming idiots and flower almost continuously.  African violets, geraniums, begonias, and crown of thorns all fall into this category and are easy to grow making them an ideal choice for the beginner.

            Some plants like sansevaria, hoya and jade plant are reluctant bloomers and often their owners raise them for years never realizing that they are capable of producing dainty and extremely fragrant flowers.  By keeping them pot bound and skipping a few waterings, they all can be coaxed in to bloom.

            Bromeliads are tropical plants with colorful flowers, but they will often go years without blooming.  If your plant is shy about flowering, try sealing the plant, pot and all, in  a plastic bag with a cut apple for a day or two.  The ethylene gas given off by the apple usually will initiate a blossom.

            There are some plants that will decide for themselves when it’s time to flower.  The agave (century plant) may not take 100 years to bloom but it could take half that long, but considering that it dies upon flowering, we think it may have a good reason for waiting.

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