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These flowering houseplants add cheer to colder Alaska months

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: October 31, 2019
  • Published October 31, 2019

Oxalis triangularis (Photo by Maja Dumat via Wikimedia Commons)

I like plants that flower this time of year. Who doesn’t? Maybe it is because November is the time of year when we really notice the darkness. It sure does seem to come on fast. Fortunately, there are many houseplants that will help this time of year.

Let me start with Oxalis. You may know these as “shamrocks,” though they are not. Back in the ’70s, when people were coming up the Alaska Highway in droves, this was a favorite Alaska plant, because it was easy to propagate by division and because it flowered constantly, showing at least a few white (or pink) flowers at all times. Leaves on some varieties are green, purple on others.

Oxalis don’t do well with direct sun, which helps explain their popularity here — where so many people didn’t used to set up lights for winter growing. (Hint, hint.) That, along with the fact they don’t need much water, makes them one of the easiest plants to grow. You see them in dry cleaning and barbershop windows. You can find them at nurseries and in supermarket floral departments.

Next, while African violets should be on your list, they probably are not because you think they require too much care. Actually, once you settle them in a spot that gets decent light, they will adjust and bloom. People think they are finicky; actually they just require room-temperature water.

Relatives of the African violet are Columnea, aka “goldfish plants.” They make an easy-to-grow houseplant that will display wonderfully interesting orange flowers constantly. These are epiphytes: They take most of their moisture and nutrients from the air. Plant them in a coarse, well-draining soil mix with lots of coir and sphagnum moss. They also need 13 hours of light, so they will need those supplementals, though you don’t have to give them bright light. Find these at nurseries or ask your supermarket florist to order some.

Full bloom pink amaryllis flowers (Getty Images)

Amaryllis should be on the list. They are now sold in the fall, and all winter long in fact, so if you are waiting for last year’s to go through dormancy, buy more and pot them up. It usually takes six to eight weeks for flowers to appear. Do not water very much, as they don’t need it and a lack of water may stimulate and speed blooming.

Cape primroses are great houseplants here, because they actually like cool temperatures, which is what you probably have near your windows. They come in all manner of colors. Give them indirect sunlight. Again, look for them or ask for some to be ordered.

This time of year, both the so-called Thanksgiving cacti and Christmas varieties set buds and start blooming. Shortening days and cooler nights (again, use those windows or find a cool room) trigger blooms. These are great plants to have in the early fall.

How do you tell if you have a Thanksgiving or a Christmas cactus? If it is setting buds now, it is a Thanksgiving variety, obviously. The Thanksgiving variety (Schlumgera truncata) is the one with pointed, claw-shaped tips on its leaves. The Christmas cactus (Schlumgera bridgesti) leaf tips are scalloped-shaped.

Bromeliad (i_am_jim via Wikimedia Commons)

Mums are great houseplants, too. They are sold this time of year because they bloom as a result of shortening days and have become a traditional Thanksgiving plant. In fact, they love to be in total dark for 13 hours or more. That is usually not hard to supply in Alaska in the fall. Once the plants stop blooming, keep them as houseplants and get them to rebloom next fall.

Finally, bromeliads are known as Hawaiian plants, but they require low light and do well right here in Alaska. They also don’t need much water. This is an ideal plant to perk up the fall with a bit of color and no work whatsoever.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Pruning: If you feel like pruning anything, you can cut out the raspberry canes that produced this year. These are the ones that have the cap that held the berries. They are dead and won’t produce again.