By Linda Cornish Blank, Extension Master Gardener
One of the joys of keeping houseplants over the decades is seeing the buds, blooms, and flowers that appear each winter from early December through March. I keep six houseplants that flower during the winter months. Two kalanchoes: Kalanchoe bracteata and Kalanchoe blossfeldiana; two from the genus Tradescantia: Tradescantia zebrina (variegated inch plant) and Tradescantia pallida (purple heart); and two prolific bloomers: Pelargonium x hybridum (geranium) and Begonia coccinea (angel wing begonia).
All flowering houseplants require bright light. Windows with either southern or western exposures are best for most flowering plants. An east-facing window will provide adequate sunlight for some, such as the angel wing begonia.
Light in the average room, away from windows, is not bright enough for most flowering plants. These sun-loving plants must be placed on a window sill or shelf, or on a table or plant stand adjacent to a window.
Kalanchoes: Clustered flowers bookending winter months
The Kalanchoe bracteata, with its thick ovate, green/gray leaves, starts budding in November. By early December, clusters of drooping salmon-colored tubular flowers begin to appear at the tops of stems. These almost translucent, bell-like flower clusters remain in bloom throughout December.
Often seen blooming in December, the Kalanchoe blossfeldiana blooms naturally in January and February. My kalanchoe first flowers for Valentine’s Day with its upright, multi-branched bright red umbels of flower clusters. The flowering stems progressively open flowers from the center of the inflorescence to the outer reaches, so plants remain in bloom for six to eight weeks.
Kalanchoes are succulents and need very well-drained soil. Water them thoroughly but allow the soil to dry between waterings. They are susceptible to stem rot, if over-watered. I’ve found kalanchoes grow well in clay pots. Because they tolerate low humidity, they are well-suited to drier indoor winter conditions.
Variegated inch plant and purple heart: Tiny flowers amid colorful foliage
Tradescantia Zebrina (inch plant) is known for its bright, variegated leaves with purple undersides. This showy, colorful foliage can overwhelm the tiny, three-petaled lavender-purple flowers that appear within two leafy bracts. The plant can bloom year-round. I’ve found the flowers most prominent in winter when foliage growth is slowed.
Tradescantia pallida (purple heart) has fleshy, dark purple, lance-shaped leaves and stems. Tiny, pale purple flowers with yellow stamens are produced at the end of fleshy stems which grow off leaf nodes. Blooming occurs year-round.
Both plants have long trailing stems, making nice hanging plants. To produce winter flowering, as described above, requires the entire plant to be in bright light. Placing these plants on a shelf in the middle of a south or west-facing window works well.
Individually the tiny flowers of each plant are short-lived. However, new blooms may continue to appear throughout the winter so flowering is on-going. Both plants are natives of Mexico. The purple heart is drought tolerate requiring minimum watering while the inch plant needs moist but well-drained soil.
Geranium and angel wing begonia: Prolific bloomers
Geraniums, often grown as annuals, can be grown as perennial houseplants that flower year-round. Flower clusters are an upright umbel at the end of a long peduncle; bracts are partially hidden below the cluster. The large, rich-colored blooms are dramatic against the plant’s deep green foliage. In winter, only one or two flower clusters may bloom at a time, but they are long-lasting. New buds often emerge as flowers begin to fade, resulting in continuing winter flowering. Blooming occurs year-round.
Geraniums require good drainage and moist soil. They have a low drought tolerance. Lower leaves will turn yellow and die if allowed to get too dry. However, watering can be tricky. Geraniums can be prone to oedema, the result of overwatering. Symptoms are corky, raised spots on lower leaves. Initially extra monitoring may be needed to get the right amount of watering.
Angel wing begonias, like geraniums, are also often grown as annuals. I keep this plant as a perennial to enjoy its flowering winter after winter. Clusters of small pink flowers spill from thin, erect stems branching from a thicker, fleshy stem. My angel wing has dark green/silver variegated leaves with red undersides. These 4-5 inch long leaves have tapered ends and toothed edges making a showy background for the cascading pink flowers. Winter blooming is typically from late December through mid-February.
Begonias need a well-drained soil. Water when the top half-to-one-inch of soil is dry to the touch. Begonias are native to the tropics where they grow in filtered light rather than direct sunlight. They are unique among my flowering houseplants preferring an east-facing window with bright morning light to the more intense afternoon sun of southern or western exposures my other flowering plants prefer.
Removing flowers when they are spent benefits a plant’s health and appearance. The process, commonly called deadheading, is to remove whole spent flower stems at the junction with the main stem. This helps to prevent infection of bacterial and fungal diseases. Take care to avoid damaging the main stem when removing the old flowers. For geraniums and begonias, deadheading can promote continued flowering.
Houseplants can brighten our indoors space – especially those that flower. The six plants I’ve described above offer a variety of blooms and flower types to create a colorful indoor garden throughout the winter months.
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- Elargonium x hortorum: Geranium. Edward F. Gilman and Teresa Howe. University of Florida, IFAS Extension. Publication #FPS458. 08-27-2015.
- Kalanchoe blossfeldiana. Missouri Botanical Garden. Gardening Help, Plant Finder. Accessed December 2021.
- Plant of the Week: Kalanchoe. Gerald Klingaman, retired Extension Horticulturist. University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. Ornamentals Extension News. March 7, 2008.