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by Pernell Gerver

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"The Best Winter-Blooming House Plants"

It's always nice to enjoy flowers indoors, especially during the long winter months when outdoor flowers are but a memory. A flowering plant in the middle of winter really helps cheer the spirits. There are many different winter-blooming house plants that provide color indoors during the long winter months. They're all easy to grow. Click on a plant name below to order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

One of my favorites I grow for winter bloom is chenille plant. Chenille plant is a shrubby house plant that bears unique flowers unlike any others. It has long, velvety, red tassels that hang down from its branches. The flowers can reach a foot long or more and remain attractive for months. New flowers are always appearing along its stems so not only is it a winter-blooming house plant, it also blooms just about all year long. It has large, pale-green leaves and can grow to three feet tall, or it can be pruned to keep it smaller.

Another plant I grow for winter bloom is related to chenille plant and is called strawberry firetails. It's a trailing house plant with small, deep-green leaves on semi-woody long stems. Its flowers are fuzzy, red "tails" that appear in the axils of its leaves near the ends of its stems. They resemble chenille plant flowers, only shorter. Like chenille plant, the flowers of strawberry firetails are long lasting. In addition to growing indoors, I also grow strawberry firetails in container gardens outdoors during summer, where its long, trailing stems hang over the edges of the container.

African GardeniaOf all of the winter-blooming house plants I grow, I think African gardenia is one of the best for many reasons. First, it's easy to grow, unlike its relative, the common gardenia. African gardenia blooms reliably indoors during winter (and all year long, for that matter!). Its small, star-shaped flowers are pink in bud and open creamy white. The flowers are held in clusters all along its stems and even the smallest stems will have a few flowers. There are dozens and dozens of flowers in bloom at any one time and, most importantly, their fragrance is wonderful! It's very similar to gardenia, albeit a little more subtle. The fragrance easily carries on the breeze, perfuming a room. It's a shrubby plant that looks similar to gardenia, but on a smaller scale. It has short, slender leaves that are carried on woody stems. It rarely grows larger than a couple of feet high and wide, making it a good choice for even a small windowsill garden. Not a fussy plant, African gardenia can be grown just about anywhere in the home - in a sunny or shady window, in cool or warm temperatures, and in low or high humidity.

Fragrant olive is a shrubby house plant with large, deep-green, leathery leaves. Fragrant olive bears clusters of small, star-shaped flowers. Each flower is only about a quarter of an inch wide. The flowers are creamy white. It bears flowers all up and down its stems in the leaf axils and even along its bare stems where there are no leaves. Fragrant olive is constantly in bloom during all the seasons, including winter. The flowers have a sweet, fruity fragrance similar to apricots that really perfumes the air. It's not an overpowering fragrance, but it's quite enjoyable to smell it on the breeze and even just a couple of flowers are enough to perfume a room.

African violet is another winter-blooming house plant and one of my favorites. It's also one of the most popular house plants. It bears showy flowers atop a neat rosette of leaves. Flower color is extensive, with just about every color of the rainbow represented. Many have unique spotted, freckled, or bicolored flowers. Many also have variegated foliage that is an attractive complement to the flowers. There are a range of sizes of African violets from micro-miniature plants with leaves only a quarter inch long to standard-sized plants that can reach a foot across. There are also interesting trailing types that cascade over the edge of the pot and look especially nice in hanging baskets.

Ruellia makoyanaTrailing velvet plant (Ruellia makoyana) is an attractive house plant with eye-catching leaves and flowers. Its elliptical, velvety leaves are dark green to nearly black with a prominent pink center vein that gives the leaves a striped appearance. The leaves are held on creeping stems that can grow two feet long or more. Small clusters of vibrant-pink, trumpet-shaped flowers bloom at the tips of its stems. It blooms in midwinter, a time when flowers are much appreciated.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Burlap Fence Protects Hedgerows in Winter"

Q. In my neighborhood I saw a row of arborvitaes along the street and each one was wrapped in burlap. Can you tell me what that is for and should I wrap my arborvitaes also? Thanks.

A. The arborvitaes were probably wrapped with burlap for winter protection, but wrapping them is not recommended. Arborvitaes as well as other evergreens have foliage (needles) on them all year long, including winter, and wrapping them prevents the plants from getting light so never wrap burlap around any plant. That can do more damage than good. I've even seen shrubs wrapped in plastic and that is even worse.

The correct way to protect a hedgerow of shrubs with burlap is to attach the burlap to wooden stakes driven into the ground and the burlap stretched out and stapled to the stakes. This makes a burlap fence. If there is a chain-link fence near the shrubs the burlap could be attached to that.

The placement of the temporary burlap fence is important. It should be parallel to the hedgerow, about three feet away from the hedge, and on the side of the prevailing winter winds which is usually from the north.

The burlap fence will shield the hedge from the drying winter winds which can "burn" the needles, killing them. Windburn can often be seen as large dead, brownish patches on evergreens. It is common on dwarf Alberta spruce.

If your hedgerow of arborvitaes is near a street you should install a burlap fence between the hedge and the street. In that location the burlap fence will protect the hedge from road salt spray. The salt spray causes damage similar to windburn and kills the needles.

Remove the burlap fence when winter is over and put it up again each year in late autumn.

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