Pruning Hydrangeas: A Step-By-Step Guide For Old And New Wood

To prune or not to prune? This is one of the quintessential gardening questions. Recently, I asked a top landscaper in Virginia to weigh in on the issue. “When is the best time to prune hydrangeas without cutting off next year’s flowers?” I asked. Her reply?

“Never,” she said with a laugh. “But your best shot is after they’ve bloomed.”

It turns out that knowing how and when to prune hydrangeas involves first, identifying what kind of shrubs you own. And it all starts with determining whether they flower on old or new wood.

PRUNING HYDRANGEAS THAT BLOOM ON OLD WOOD

Nikko Blue hydrangeas bloom on old wood

Old wood is quite simply, last year’s wood. Hydrangeas that bloom on old wood set their flower buds in late summer on stalks that have been on the plant since the previous year. 

Hydrangeas that bloom on old wood include the mophead, bigleaf (macrophylla), lacecap and oakleaf varieties.  

Oakleaf hydrangea is recognizable by its foliage that resembles oak leaves

In terms of pruning, these beautiful shrubs require very little. But if you must, knowing when and what to cut is key. That’s because the more old wood you take, the fewer flowers you’ll have next summer. 

Follow these three steps to maintain the health and vigor of your old wood hydrangeas:

  1. Immediately after flowering (and no later than July), prune flowering stems back to a pair of healthy buds.
  2. In late winter or early spring, prune out weak or damaged stems. Remove no more than 1/3 of the oldest stalks, taking them down to ground level.
  3. Repeat the process every summer to rejuvenate your shrubs and control their shape.

PRUNING HYDRANGEAS THAT BLOOM ON NEW WOOD

Limelight hydrangeas bloom on new wood

Hydrangeas that bloom on new wood set their flowering buds on the current season’s growth. Since their flowers come from new growth from the base of the plant, they can be pruned almost any time of year, except summer. Follow these three steps to maintain the health and vigor of these types of hydrangeas:

  1. Cut off faded blooms in late summer to improve the looks of the shrub.
  2. Prune out the oldest canes to improve vigor.
  3. Cut back the entire shrub in late winter before new growth starts to appear.

Additional tricks of the trade include leaving some of the older branches as a framework for new growth (these types of hydrangeas tend to open up and get floppy.) Many gardeners also advocate cutting the shrubs all the way back to the ground, which often produces bigger flowers.  

‘ANNABELLE’ 

Considered the crème de la crème of all the varieties that bloom on new wood, Hydrangea arborescens Annabelle is what is called a ‘smooth’ hydrangea. Smooth hydrangeas are known for their giant white blooms. They are native to the southeastern United States.

Distinctive white blooms of Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’

What makes Annabelle so special is that it not only produces enormous, pure white flowers from June to August, but it also stays compact, growing to just 3 to 5 feet tall and wide. At first glance, it can be hard to tell this cultivar apart from other white-blooming hydrangeas. However, a number of gardeners go by this golden rule:

Annabelle flowers open lime green in early summer, change to bright white mid-summer and then switch back to light green in late summer before turning tan in the fall.

More recently, an improved version of Annabelle called Incrediball has been developed. It features basketball-sized blooms and thicker, stronger stems that won’t flop over. In fact, they’re so sturdy that they’ll stay upright even in a rainstorm. 

‘Incrediball’ features 12″ flower clusters and blooms on new wood

Most professionals recommend pruning hydrangeas like Annabelle to help control for shape and to increase blooms. For this reason, many gardeners cut them back to the ground (within 6″) in late winter or early spring. Some say this encourages these varieties to produce larger flowers and sturdier stems. But others claim it weakens the plants over time, causing them to need to be staked.

I recommend taking the middle road and pruning Annabelles back to between 1 and 3 feet above the soil.

PRUNING PANICLE HYDRANGEAS

Panicle hydrangeas bloom on new wood

Panicle hydrangeas also bloom on new wood. As a result, they can be pruned in late winter or early spring before they produce new growth. Cut them to the ground or to just a few feet above the soil depending on the size plant you want to maintain. The best known of the panicle hydrangeas include PeeGee and Limelight.

THE SUNNY SIDE OF LIMELIGHT HYDRANGEAS

When they were first introduced from Holland in the early 2000’s, Limelight hydrangeas took the garden world by storm. Featuring enormous, football shaped clusters of flowers, the shrubs performed great in full sun (although for best color, they require some shade).

Limelights keep their beautiful celadon color all summer long before aging slowly to pink. In the fall, they change to shades of dusty red and burgundy. They are panicle hydrangeas and they bloom on new wood. Prune them like Annabelles.

Limelight hydrangeas bloom on new wood

ENDLESS SUMMER – THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS  

There’s a new kind of hydrangea in town called Endless Summer and it’s rocking the hydrangea world. Introduced in 2004 by Bailey Nurseries, Endless Summer hydrangeas bloom on both old and new wood. As a result, this gives them the ability to flower repeatedly all summer. The company’s tag line is, appropriately,

Experience life in full-bloom.

Endless Summer mophead variety

As of 2018, there are three different varieties currently available. Blushing Bride produces pure white mophead flowers that mature to soft pink. Twist-n-Shout is the first re-blooming lacecap variety. And BloomStruck has vivid purple or rose-pink mophead blooms that hold their color all summer. Summer Crush (available in 2019) will feature raspberry red or neon purple blooms.

It’s easy to imagine the benefits of plants that bloom on both old and new wood. Their flowers naturally last for most of the summer. Moreover, the company says Endless Summer hydrangeas bloom 10 to 12 weeks longer than average hydrangeas. Best of all, these hydrangeas need little to no pruning.

SOME COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT HYDRANGEAS

Why are my hydrangea flowers turning brown in the summer?

The main reason that hydrangea flowers turn brown is too much sun; specifically hot mid-day to afternoon sun. To prevent this problem, site your shrubs in areas where they receive direct sun either in the early morning or late afternoon. Same goes for the lacecap varieties, which tend to have a much shorter flowering span than the mopheads. Attention to watering during dry spells also helps prolong blooms.

What do I do if my hydrangeas have grown too big and floppy?

Most gardeners advise waiting until the shrubs have been in the ground for 5 years before beginning a pruning program. If you’ve got the type that blooms on new wood, prune your shrubs in late winter or early spring for shape, taking them down to between 1 and 3 feet from the ground. If you’ve got the kind that blooms on old wood, follow the method above, removing 1/3 of the oldest living stalks each summer after the shrubs have flowered.

When I cut blossoms will it hurt the other blooms?

After August, cut only short stems to avoid affecting next year’s blooms

For hydrangeas that bloom on old wood, deadheading (or cutting flowers for indoor arrangements) can be performed on long or short stems in June through July without affecting next year’s flower buds. After August, it’s best to harvest only short stems.

Can I prune some of the branches without affecting the others?

Yes. You are only cutting off the flower buds on the stalks that you prune.

Does watering keep the blooms going? Why do my hydrangeas look so dry in July?

As with all plants, watering during dry spells is key. Keep the soil moist around your hydrangea shrubs to keep the flowers going all summer.

I did all the right things and my hydrangeas didn’t bloom this year. What happened?

Weather can negatively affect blooms, too

Finally, you can follow all the rules and prune your new or old wood shrubs correctly, but weather can also have its negative effects, particularly frost. In colder regions, flowering can be adversely affected by either early fall or late spring frosts, making it confusing as to whether you pruned off the blooms yourself or left it to Mother Nature.

For photos of my garden designs, including plant lists, check out my Instagram at carole.herebydesign. I post seasonally from spring through fall.

 

How To Identify Poison Ivy

Even bad boys can have a good side; and so it goes with an unwanted inhabitant of many a garden, poison ivy.  The native plant sure knows how to take over a room. For humans, its ornamental qualities are less than desirable. That being said, poison ivy does have its uses. See below.

WHAT IT IS

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), poison ivy is one of the most common poisonous plant species found throughout the continental United States. A native of North America, it grows mostly in the eastern and midwestern states where it tends to inhabit forests, fields, and shorelines. More worrisomely, it’s also come to love urban/suburban environments such as road sides and parks. This in turn has led to it taking up residence in many of our backyards. 

Poison ivy is a member of the sumac family, Anacardiaceae, which comprises over 860 known species. Along with poison sumac and poison oak, it is part of the genus toxicodendron, whose toxic properties produce contact dermatitis in affected individuals. 

A TOXIC RELATIONSHIP

So what makes toxicodendron so toxic? The culprit is urushiol, an oily resin with allergenic properties. Urushiol is found in every part of toxicodendron, including dead or dormant plants. When poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac are bumped, damaged or even burned, they release urushiol as a means of protection.

In fact, research shows that only a small amount of exposure can cause an allergic rash. And by small amount, that means just 1 nanogram or one billionth of a gram. There is even evidence that urushiol can remain on a surface for up to five years. The take-away? I’d say avoid these plants altogether.

On a good note, apparently about 10 to 15 percent of the human population is immune to poison ivy and its cousins, and therefore will never experience the rash. And poison ivy is less common outside the U.S., although it can still be found here and there around the globe. 

HOW TO IDENTIFY POISON IVY

A common adage says ‘Leaves of three, let it be’, while another counsels ‘Leaves of three, run and flee’. I prefer the latter, having suffered from major breakouts throughout my lifetime in the garden. That being said, poison ivy is a chameleon when it comes to appearance. it can be downright hard to identify. Compare the photo below to the two above. You’ll see what I mean.

The truth is poison ivy has so many variations it can baffle even the most seasoned horticulturalist. Take for instance its make-up. It can be a creeping groundcover, or a woody vine (referred to as a liane) which, once it scales a tree, can put on 20 feet of growth in just one season. And full sun can cause it to take on a shrub form.

And while most of us know to look out for a plant with three leaves, from that point on, things can get murky. Poison ivy has a compound leaf, which means that what presents as a single leaf is actually three. Additionally, its leaves can be shiny or dull, and their size and shape can vary greatly. Some leaves are toothed, while others are deeply lobed. And in some rare instances, poison ivy can have five leaves instead of three. 

Poison ivy taking on fall color

Look for bright green leaves during the growing season and bright red ones in the fall.

HERE’S THE RUB

The good news is that, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), poison ivy rashes are not contagious and therefore cannot be spread from person to person. However, it is possible to pick up the rash from toxins stuck to clothing, tools or other items including pets (see below.) And contrary to common thought, the rash occurs only where the oil has touched the skin. So rubbing or scratching won’t spread it. What may seem like a spreading rash is actually the toxin’s effects appearing gradually over time.

Photo credit/medicinenet.com

Always wash your skin and clothes after coming into contact with poison ivy. This is essential to removing all traces of urushiol. And use cold water, not hot. Hot water thins the oil and helps it dissipate more quickly.

CAN ANIMALS GET POISON IVY?

According to the Pet Poison Helpline, the answer is rarely. Usually, their long protective coats prevent the plant oils from ever reaching their skin. However, animals can carry the toxin on top of their fur, so don’t let your pet rub against you if you think he or she’s been in contact. Try bathing yours with a colloidal oatmeal shampoo while wearing gloves to eliminate the urushiol.

My cat, Squeaky

IT’S GOOD FOR SOMETHING

Before you decide to remove that patch on your slope, you might want to think again. Like kudzu, poison ivy is great at erosion control, especially on coastlines where it acts as a stabilizer for sandy soil. (It’s a big player along the Eastern coastline.) Moreover, it provides valuable food for many species of wildlife, who eat its fruit, stems and leaves.  And it also functions as a protective shelter for small mammals.

Small animals like rabbits like to feed on poison ivy

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

As with most unwanted plants, the best way to eliminate them is to get to know their seedlings and start early. As poison ivy matures, however, it may require years of patient digging to totally eliminate its root structure.  You can apply an herbicide like glyphosate to the plant’s roots, leaves or vines. However, be sure to wear eye protection and gloves when chopping down vines. And never use a chain saw, which can spread the toxins by air.

 

 

Why Carnations Are The Official Mother’s Day Flower

For those of you who think Mother’s Day was created by Hallmark, the real story is much more poignant. It all sprang from a daughter’s love for her mother, the trials of war and a gift of 500 white carnations.

IT ALL BEGAN IN WEST VIRGINIA

It all began in 1905 when Anna Jarvis lost her mother. She and her mother had been very close during Anna’s lifetime. Consumed by grief, Anna made a solemn vow. She pledged to establish a national day to honor her mother and all mothers for the positive contributions they made to society.

Anna’s mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, had raised her family in the mid 1800’s and had suffered great hardship. Of the 12 children she gave birth to, only four survived. The others died from diseases common at the time, including measles, typhoid and diphtheria. 

MOTHERS HELPING MOTHERS 

But despite having suffered so much loss, Anna’s mother was stout-hearted. In the 1850s, she began organizing coalitions of mothers from across West Virginia to combat childhood illness. The women raised money for medicines, inspected food and milk and provided nursing care for those who were sick. 

The coalitions became known as the Mothers Day Work Clubs.

Ann Reeves Jarvis

And when the Civil War broke out in 1861, the mothers acted as volunteer nurses, caring for soldiers of both the Confederate and Union armies.

Mother’s Day Work Club members took care of all soldiers

Even after the war, the clubs continued to be a unifying force. In 1868, Jarvis organized a Mothers’ Friendship Day, which brought together mothers of former foes and encouraged reconciliation among area families.

ANNA JARVIS AND 500 WHITE CARNATIONS

Shortly after Ann’s death, her daughter Anna organized a memorial at her mother’s church in Grafton, West Virginia. During the service, she passed out 500 white carnations (her mother’s favorite flower) to all the mothers in attendance. With this unofficial inauguration, Anna began writing letters to national, state and local politicians to gain their support for a Mother’s Day movement. 

And unbelievably, in just a little over a decade later, 46 states and many foreign countries, including Canada and Mexico, were holding Mother’s Day celebrations. Then in 1912, Anna began campaigning for international recognition of the day.

Finally in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made things official. He signed Proclamation 1268, which created a national Mother’s Day as A public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of our country.

Letter signed by President Woodrow Wilson establishing Mother’s Day

The second Sunday in May became the official day of celebration. And the wearing of a white carnation, Ann Jarvis’ favorite flower, became a tradition.

THE CONTROVERSY OVER MOTHER’S DAY CARDS

Anna Jarvis’ originally intended for Mother’s Day to be a personal celebration between mothers and their families (this is why Mother’s takes the singular possessive and not the plural). She imagined it as a time when millions would visit their mothers and write personal, hand written notes expressing their love and affection.

Vintage Mother’s Day card

With the official recognition of the holiday, however, florists, card companies and other merchants began jumping on the bandwagon. Jarvis became more and more enraged as she watched Mother’s Day drift further and further away from her original idea. And nothing upset her more than the growth in popularity of the printed Mother’s Day card. She wrote,

A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. 

By 1920, Jarvis had become so upset over the commercialization of Mother’s Day that she launched a campaign to abolish the holiday. Declaring Mother’s Day a failure, she organized boycotts and threatened lawsuits to stop others from profiting off of the day.

In 1923, she even filed suit against the Governor of New York over a Mother’s Day celebration. When the court rejected her plea, she formed a protest and was arrested for disturbing the peace. She devoted the remainder of her life to fighting against the very day she had established.

Jarvis died, childless, in 1948 at the age of 84. She is buried next to her mother in Philadelphia.

THE ROLE OF CARNATIONS

Yet a century later, Jarvis’ legacy lives on in our annual Mother’s Day celebration. And there’s no doubt that carnations have become the official Mother’s Day flower. In her day the carnations were white, but since then pink and red colors have also become popular.

In fact, today it is generally believed that pink carnations represent gratitude while red ones signify admiration. And white carnations are now reserved for honoring a mother who is no longer living.

Red carnations signify admiration

Despite Jarvis’ later efforts, every U.S. president since 1914 has issued an official Presidential Mother’s Day Proclamation recognizing and honoring America’s mothers. And today, the custom is celebrated all over the world (albeit on different days.)

On a personal note, I like receiving printed cards and flowers on Mother’s Day, but have to agree with Jarvis that nothing beats a hand-written note from your child. I’m lucky enough to receive such letters each and every year.

Wishing all of you a very happy Mother’s Day!

 

Why Lily of the Valley Is The Official May Day Flower

Years ago, I was living in Paris when there was a knock at the door followed by the sound of running footsteps. Opening the door, I discovered a basket of tiny white flowers on my doorstep. Little did I know, I had just received a gift of lilies of the valley, a flower exchanged each year in France on the first of May.

A ROYAL HISTORY

In France, lily of the valley (or muguet in French) has been given as a gift for centuries. Legend has it that the custom started on May 1, 1561 when King Charles IX received a sprig of the tiny flower as a token of good luck.

The King liked the idea so much that he decided to start a tradition. From that day forward on the first of May, he presented a bouquet of lilies of the valley to each of the ladies of his court. And thus began in France the Fête du Muguet, otherwise known as May Day. 

Portrait of King Charles IX

MAY’S MOST CELEBRATED FLOWER

Over the centuries, lily of the valley has become one of May’s most celebrated flowers. And for good reason. Depending on climate, it typically blooms in mid April and retains its blossoms for most of May. The species itself is small in size, averaging only 6″ tall.  Each plant has a pair of upright, sword-like leaves and a single stalk of sweetly scented, white or pink bell-shaped flowers. 

Still, for what it lacks in size, lily of the valley rapidly makes up for in numbers. When given ample shade, it will form low, thick masses of bright evergreen color, making it the perfect complement to other shade-loving perennials.  

THE STORY OF LILY OF THE VALLEY AND THE NIGHTINGALE

Once upon a time, the very first lily of the valley was in love with a nightingale. Every night, the nightingale would come to her garden to sing. However, the lily of the valley was shy and hid herself from the bird. So after a while, he grew lonely and flew away.

Alone in the garden, the lily of the valley waited in vain for the nightingale to return. Eventually, she grew so sad that she stopped blooming. She started flowering again only after the nightingale reappeared (in May) and her happiness was restored.

A SYMBOL OF ROMANCE

In the early 20th century in France, men often gave bouquets of lilies of the valley as tokens of affection. They presented their gifts, in accordance with tradition, on the first of May. In their absence, they sent romantic postcards featuring pictures of the flower accompanied by wishes of good luck. French people still practice the card-sending ritual today.

A vintage Fête du Muguet card

A NATIONAL HOLIDAY IN FRANCE

These days in France, the first of May coincides with National Labor Day. As a result, the Fête du Muguet is a public holiday. In the days leading up to the event, lilies of the valley are sold from roadside stands that pop up all over the country. And while it’s normally forbidden to sell flowers on public streets, the ban is lifted on May 1 in honor of this long-standing tradition.

Photo credit/Shutterstock.com

HOW TO GROW LILY OF THE VALLEY

Easy-to-grow lilies of the valley are indigenous to temperate climates and are believed to have originated in Japan. Spreading by tiny rhizomes underground, they naturalize easily and can quickly become invasive in the garden. Unless you’re up for continually digging them out to control them, it’s best to plant the flowers in their native woodland or in a contained area in the yard.

And like most shade-loving plants, lilies of the valley prefer moist, well-drained loamy soil. Never plant them in full sun. If you do, their bright green leaves will lose their color and turn ugly shades of brown. 

DON’T EAT THEM

Finally, you may be surprised to learn that all parts of the lily of the valley are toxic if eaten. So when handling the flowers, it’s best to wear gloves to prevent any residue from being transmitted to food. Symptoms of lily of the valley poisoning include stomachache and blurred vision.

To see photos of my garden designs, including plant lists, check out my Instagram at carole.herebydesign. I post seasonally from spring through fall.

 

 

Why Star Magnolia Deserves A Spot In Your Garden

When it comes to stunning, early-blooming trees, it’s hard to beat the star magnolia. Every March, it showers the landscape in a flush of bright white. For what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in stature. I love how the blossoms hang like fallen stars from its smooth, bare branches.

THE SMALL GARDEN’S MAGNOLIA

Now, even small gardens can have a magnolia! What’s more, star magnolia is slow-growing, so it won’t overwhelm your landscape. Topping out at a manageable 10 to 15 feet, it makes an excellent specimen tree while also providing a great backdrop to any mixed shrub border. 

Yet for all that, the tree’s most valuable asset, in most people’s view, is its early spring blossoms. Typically flowering in early March, the star magnolia is lush with blooms when most other ornamentals are scarcely starting to bud. Moreover, the flowers are fragrant. Each is composed of more than a dozen ribbon-like petals. And some varieties boast as many as 30.

And while star magnolias are typically associated with white flowers, there are also a number of pink varieties. All are magnets for pollinators, which gives your other plants an early start on the season.

FOR STAR MAGNOLIAS, THE SHOW NEVER STOPS

But, for those who think star magnolias are all about spring, think again. The little trees offer fall and winter interest as well. In autumn, the foliage turns yellow, then bronze, providing an interesting complement to other fall colors.

And star magnolia’s twiggy, many-branched shape provides great winter interest. Colored a shiny, chestnut brown, the branches contrast handsomely with the tree’s smooth gray trunk, which slowly turns silver with age. As an added plus, the buds, appearing in late winter, are fat and fuzzy, just like pussy willows. 

TOP STAR MAGNOLIA VARIETIES TO TRY

Ready to give star magnolia a try? Below are some the most popular cultivars that offer reliable, low-maintenance early spring color. Deciduous magnolias are best planted when dormant, typically in late fall.

‘Centennial’ produces fragrant, waterlily-shaped blossoms in early to mid spring. The large white flowers often have a pink tinge at the base of the petals. 

Magnolia stellata ‘Centennial’

‘Jane Platt’ produces double, scented, pale pink flowers with long, narrow petals in early to mid spring.

Magnolia stellata ‘Jane Platt’

‘Royal Star’ has pale pink buds that open in early spring to pure white flowers. In particular, this cultivar is known for its almost 5-inch (12 cm) wide flowers with up to 30 petals. ‘Royal Star’ blooms later than the species. 

Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’

‘Rosea’ is a pink-flowered variety. It has a rounded shape and dense bushy habit. This cultivar flowers a month later than the species, or in late April. 

Magnolia stellata ‘Rosea’

HOW AND WHERE TO PLANT

Star magnolia flowers are vulnerable to damage by late spring frosts, so it’s best to plant the trees in a sheltered spot. While they’ll do fine in full sun, they’ll perform best in morning sun with filtered shade in the afternoon. Generally, the more exposed the location, the earlier the flowers open. Like most plants, star magnolias prefer moist, well-drained soil. 

Magnolia stellata really shines when viewed against a dark background. Site it in front of a stand of deep green arborvitae, a yew hedge or even a dark brick house and watch its flowers ‘pop.’  Daffodils with cream or white petals and yellow cups make excellent early-spring companions. Check out Narcissus ‘Sovereign’, Golden Echo’ or the orange-cupped ‘Barrett Browning’ for a dramatic effect.

To see photos of my garden designs, including plant lists, check out my Instagram at carole.herebydesign. I post seasonally from spring through fall.

Drink To Your Health With These 10 Medicinal Teas

cover 3

Now that temperatures are dropping and we’re spending more time indoors, almost nothing beats a cup of hot tea. And aside from the warm and cozy feeling a steaming mug evokes, tea has never looked better. That’s because many ‘true’ and herbal teas contain powerful antioxidants and other substances that are great for human health. So before opening the medicine cabinet, why not explore the benefits of medicinal tea? Continue reading

Show Me The Money Tree

After this past year, we could all use a little extra luck. And happily, as gardeners, we need look no further than the Chinese New Year for inspiration. Among the many auspicious symbols for 2021 is this year’s lucky plant, the money tree, or Pachira aquatica. According to feng shui principles, it could ensure a prosperous year ahead. Continue reading

Cyclamen Care: Four Keys To Success Indoors

For me, one of the highlights of December is the arrival in stores of all those winter-blooming cyclamen. Aside from poinsettias, they are my favorite cold-season flowers. There’s just one problem. After a couple of weeks, the plants’ stems often start to droop and the leaves may even turn yellow. But not to worry, there’s a solution! All it takes is an understanding of where cyclamen come from, and why temperature is key to their success indoors. Continue reading

12 Top Flowering Houseplants for Easy-Care Blooms Indoors

houseplant

Updating a home can get expensive. That said, flowering houseplants can offer an affordable alternative. I love how they perk up a room, instantly injecting color into blah indoor spaces. Changed your mind? You can switch them around or swap them out completely. And houseplants last a whole lot longer than cut flowers.

I know… for some, the thought of growing plants in their home can be intimidating. But in fact, it’s easy. All you need to do is follow the three steps below. 

1. GIVE YOUR FLOWERING HOUSEPLANTS SOME SUN

No matter the species, flowering houseplants need at least some concentrated hours of bright to direct sunlight in order to produce blooms.

Plants need at least some sunlight to flower

Don’t ignore that label! Read it carefully to determine what kind of sunlight your plant prefers, then place it in the proper location. No plant will thrive in a dark corner.

2. ADHERE TO A REGULAR WATERING SCHEDULE

Consistent watering makes stronger plants. And flowering houseplants prefer a regular watering schedule. The watering cycle you choose will depend on the kind of plants you have and the level of humidity and amount of light you have in your home.
watering-can

Plants need water

Some flowering houseplants prefer to have a good soak, then dry out slightly between waterings. This allows them to properly absorb both water and nutrients. Conversely, others like to be kept consistently moist. It may take some experimenting to determine what works best in your home. Either way, good drainage holes are key.

Whatever your watering schedule, always add just enough water to the pot to allow a small amount to run out from the bottom. This will ensure the roots of your flowering houseplant are well saturated. In addition, it will help wash away salts and fertilizers that may have built up in the soil.

Good drainage is key

Most importantly, never leave your plants sitting in waterThis will lead to root rot and ultimately the death of your houseplant. Yellow leaves are an indicator that this is happening.

3. FEED REGULARLY

Unlike plants grown outdoors in soil, indoor plants are confined to the pot. That means it’s up to you to provide all their water and nutrients. Feeding your flowering houseplants not only helps them produce more blooms, but it also wards of indoor pests and diseases. I use a balanced liquid fertilizer mixed with tap water every other week. 

Plants need food to flower

Certain species such as African violets, orchids and dwarf citrus trees prefer their own special food, so check with your local plant store to see which products best meet your needs.

Following are 12 top flowering houseplants for easy-care blooms indoors.

AFRICAN VIOLET

Adaptable to just about every environment, African violets are one of the easiest flowering houseplants to grow. Moreover, there are hundreds of varieties to choose from. The fuzzy-leaved plant performs best in evenly moist soil and indirect sunlight.

african violet

Water African violets at the soil surface, taking care not to moisten the leaves. Or, allow the plant to wick up water from a saucer. However, never allow your plant to remain standing in water or the roots may be damaged. African violets grow best in smaller pots.

KALANCHOE

This beautiful succulent with orange, yellow and red flowers has long lasting flowers and attractive, oval-shaped fleshy foliage. The plant blooms naturally indoors during winter and early spring.

Kalanchoes prefer bright light, but beware – they’ll burn in full sun. Again, proper drainage is key. Use a loose potting soil containing peat moss, perlite and sand and place pebbles at the bottom of the pot to guard against standing water. And never place a kalanchoe near a draft or cold window. 

JASMINE

Jasminum polyanthum, also known as pink jasmine or white jasmine, is the most common variety of jasmine grown indoors. A fragrant plant with showy white blooms, it grows best near a south-facing window. Cool temperatures are essential to encouraging this flowering houseplant’s buds to form. Jasmine typically flowers indoors in February.

Grow jasmine in evenly moist soil and prune regularly to keep it in bounds. Repot in the spring, trimming the roots before replenishing with fresh soil.

OXALIS (Purple Clover)

Often called shamrock for its purple, shamrock-shaped leaves, oxalis is a small-sized flowering houseplant that grows to a height of just around six inches. The delicate white or soft pink flowers bloom off and on during fall, winter and spring. And the leaves fold up at night only to open again in the morning.

Oxalis grows from tiny bulbs that can be divided at any time. Water your plant when the potting soil is dry to the touch or if you observe the stems starting to droop. Look for exotic varieties for best indoor performance.

CHRISTMAS CACTUS, THE HOLIDAY HOUSEPLANT

This beautiful flowering houseplant loves holidays. There are Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter varieties, some of which can be encouraged to re-bloom. The buds start forming a month before blooms and darken as they swell. And the flowers come in a wide variety of colors including, red, pink, orange, purple, orange and cream.

Christmas Cactus likes bright, indirect light and cool temperatures. But, keep it away from drafts and heat sources that can stunt growth and burn leaves. Unlike desert cacti, these tropical cacti cannot tolerate dry soil. Keep the potting soil evenly moist for best growth. And water only when the top inch of the soil has dried out.

ANTHURIUM (Flamingo Flower)

The heart-shaped ‘flower’ of anthurium is actually a modified leaf that grows from the base of a fleshy spike of flowers. The most common houseplant variety is Painter’s Palette, which features long-lasting blooms (usually red) and glossy green, arrow-shaped leaves.

Anthuriums grow best in medium to bright light (avoid direct sunlight, however.) Keep the potting soil constantly moist and for best results, use tepid water. A consistently warm temperature is key to achieving good growth.

GLOXINIA

Often thrown away after they quit flowering, gloxinias can become great houseplants with proper care. Best known for their large bell-shaped blooms, the dramatic plants come in a wide variety of colors, including varieties with bands and/or white speckles. By contrast, the oblong, fuzzy leaves are a soft gray green.

Gloxinias prefer warm temperatures, evenly moist soil and high humidity (supplement humidity with a humidifier or tray with pebbles and water). As with African violets, it’s important to keep water off of the foliage to avoid brown spot.

Unlike African violets, gloxinias require a period of rest in order to bloom again. Once flowers fade, reduce watering to about half and resume regular watering when new growth appears.

BEGONIA 

There are hundreds of varieties of this beautiful plant to choose from, most of which will produce indoor blooms all year long. Foliage varies among green, silver, variegated or maroon. And flowers come in a variety of colors, including red, pink, white and yellow. 

All begonias prefer medium to bright light and evenly moist soil. However, they can become leggy fast without proper care. To prevent this from happening, keep your plants in shape by following these simple pruning techniques. 

Angel-Wing begonia is so-named for the shape of its leaves that resemble wings. Numerous cultivars exist in different sizes with different leaf colors and red, pink or white blossoms. Angel-Wing begonias are some of the easiest flowering houseplants to grow. Pinch back tall stems to keep the plant bushy.

Rieger begonia is a winter-blooming variety with clusters of camellia-like blossoms in fiery colors of red, yellow and orange atop glossy green leaves.

The popular (outdoor) bedding plant, wax begonia, also makes a great flowering houseplant. Varieties feature red, pink or white flowers atop waxy green foliage. The plant needs good air circulation to thrive.

PHALAENOPSIS ORCHID 

Arguably the most recognizable of all the orchid varieties, the easy-to-grow Phalaenopsis produces flowers that can sometimes last up to three months. The long sprays of large blooms flourish indoors under normal light and prefer the same temperatures that humans do.

Place the plant in indirect sunlight and water once a week, making sure the soil remains moist just under the soil surface. Be careful not to overwater or the flowers will wilt and fall off. Good drainage is essential to guard against root rot. After the last flower finishes blooming, cut the stalk in half and wait to see if the plant re-blooms.

SILVER VASE PLANT (Urn Plant)

Silver vase plant is a type of bromeliad that is grown both indoors and outdoors depending on the climate. The common name comes from the structure of the plant, the center of which resembles an urn or vase. The plant produces a large pink spiky-shape flower above stiff, silver and green foliage. It lasts for months and grows to around six inches.

Low-maintenance, silver vase plant makes a great flowering houseplant. Its minimal requirements include bright light and periodic watering (every 2-3 weeks). Watering involves filling the “vase” (and not the potting soil) with water.

KAFFIR LILY (Orange Clivia Miniata)

A member of the amaryllis family, the Kaffir lily can be forced into bloom in winter or early spring indoors. It bears clusters of up to 20 reddish-orange tubular flowers with yellow centers above glossy green leaves. The plant is also available in red, peach, yellow and white varieties.

Kaffir lilies need cool and dry temperatures for 6 to 8 weeks in fall in order to bloom. Water sparingly until the bloom appears (keeping the soil on the dry side), then increase watering midwinter. Place in bright light, but keep away from direct sun.

CALAMONDIN ORANGE (For experts only)

The Calamondin Orange is actually a hybrid between a mandarin orange and kumquat. The dwarf citrus tree has woody stems covered with oval, glossy green leaves that give off a citrusy aroma. In late winter or early spring, fragrant white blossoms appear followed by fruits that may stay on the plant for many weeks. Once ripe, the fruits can be harvested and used like lemons.

For best performance indoors, plant calamondin in a small container. Plants won’t re-bloom if they are potted in a container that is too large. Make sure there are good drainage holes in the bottom of the container to protect against root rot. Place the tree in bright light, with at least four hours of direct sunlight a day. Rotate the plant a quarter turn each week to promote even growth. Fertilize with a good organic fruit tree fertilizer.

To see photos of my garden designs, including plant lists, check out my Instagram at carole.herebydesign. I post seasonally from spring through fall.

Why Leaves Change Color and Other Fall Facts

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Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

-Albert Camus

I like to think of fall from an Alice In Wonderland perspective. That is, autumn is a time when we shrink in proportion to our gardens while the leaves ‘bloom’ above us. And every year nature charts new territory, unveiling color schemes so daring they leave little doubt as to her ability to create designs far superior to our own. Continue reading