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updated: 1/14/2013 5:48 PM

Best plants for indoor blooms

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By Mary Boldan and Mary Moisand

Q. Could you give me some suggestions for plants that will bloom indoors? I need something to brighten up the winter days ahead.

A. If you are already beginning to miss the blooms of the growing season, do not despair. The following indoor plants, which offer blooms to brighten your surroundings.

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African violets are longtime favorites because they will flower several times a year. They like bright light, but not direct sunlight and prefer temperatures around 70F. They do best in a well-drained potting mix which should be kept moist. Keep humidity high by placing the container on a bed of pebbles onto which you pour water. Be careful not to allow water to splash on the leaves; instead, water from below or by pushing the watering spout into the potting medium.

Amaryllis is a popular indoor bulb because its flowering period extends from late December until late June. Amaryllis comes in many colors including red, white, pink and salmon, as well as striped and multicolored varieties. To bloom, place the base and roots of the bulb in room temperature water for a few hours.

Carefully plant the bulb in potting medium up to the neck and press the soil mixture firmly to keep the bulb in place. Place the potted bulb in a warm place with good bright light (not direct sun) for the development of stems. Water sparingly until the stem appears; then, as the bud and leaves appear, gradually add more water. At this point, the stem will grow rapidly and flowers will develop after it has reached full growth.

Flowering winter begonias, also known as Rieger begonias, are bred to bloom during the winter season. They are available in whites, yellows, reds and pinks.

The shortened light of winter days actually stimulate blooming. Begonia pots should be set in a window that receives bright, indirect sunlight. Avoid overwatering by letting the top half-inch of potting mix become dry between waterings. These indoor bloomers like average to warm temperatures, as well as some humidity. Avoid spraying the leaves or letting the plant sit in water as this encourages diseases, which can kill the plant.

Bromeliads can add color to an indoor setting for many months. Their bright flowers and beautiful leaves can help perk up the dreariest winter day. Horticulturalists have shown that bromeliads improve air quality by releasing oxygen and removing air pollutants during the night. Bromeliads can be grown in most any type of container with good drainage. They require less maintenance than most indoor plants. While they prefer bright, indirect sunlight, or even fluorescent lighting, many species are quite adaptable when it comes to lighting, and some varieties can tolerate low light conditions. These plants are drought resistant and do not need as much water as other indoor plants. In fact, one of the biggest causes of decline in bromeliad health is overwatering. With very little care, as long as they are not over watered, they will provide bright colors for a long period.

Kalanchoes are popular succulents, which are commonly available in red, pink, yellow, white or orange. They are not difficult to grow, but as is with all Bromeliads, you must not overwater. Let the soil surface dry out between watering. They prefer bright sunny locations such as a south-facing window, and warmth. If exposed to temperatures below 55 degrees, they will begin to show signs of distress.

• Provided by Mary Boldan and Mary Moisand, University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners. Master Gardener Answer Desk, located at Friendship Park Conservatory, 395 Algonquin, Des Plaines, is open 9 a.m. to noon Wednesdays. Call (847) 298-3502 or email Cookcountymg.com@gmail.com

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