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Captivating Cape Primroses for Indoor Color

After the holiday season is over and the poinsettias have been discarded, the home can seem to be rather bleak with no color from blooming plants. Having indoor color to brighten some of the dark and gloomy days we get in the winter months can give our spirits a boost while we wait for spring. In the time between now and the arrival of spring, a good way to fill the flower void is with the easy-to-grow, blooming house plant, Cape primrose (Streptocarpus spp.).

Cape Primrose Origins

The common name, Cape primrose, refers to the plant’s usually long-tubed, primrose-like flowers with South African Cape origins. But, it is not a true primrose. Instead, it’s in a plant group called gesneriads,  in the family Gesneriaceae, and a relative of African violets. Cape primroses have an advantage over African violets in that they produce multiple large flowers on longer stems. Like African violets, they can bloom over a long period of time and come in colorful shades of blue, purple, pink, yellow, white and bicolors. They also have contrasting veins and/or throat colors for added appeal. There are many cultivated varieties, and many have ruffled edges for extra flounce.

Growing Cape Primroses

Many varieties of Streptocarpus have ruffled edges for extra flounce.

If you can grow African violets, then you can grow Cape primroses.  Since both plants are related, and grow in comparable environments in the wild, they require similar growing conditions. The correct potting mix is essential for good growth, and Black Gold African Violet Mix is ideal for providing a good balance between porosity and organic matter. (Click here for a full video about how to plant African violets and close relatives, like Cape primroses.)

The location in the house is critical for Cape primroses to thrive and continue to bloom. Keep them in an area with bright, indirect light. They are sensitive to hot, direct sun but will not bloom without adequate light. They also require high humidity, so keep them away from a heating vent or outside door so as to minimize drafts. One humidifying method to try is placing the pots on a tray of crushed rock or small pebbles covered with water. This will keep the air around the plants humid while not over saturating the pots.

Most house plants either die or decline because of too much water, and Cape primrose is no exception. They should be watered thoroughly from the bottom, and the soil should be allowed to slightly dry out at the top before watering again. With too much water or lack of adequate drainage, the leaves will wilt and the base of the plant may rot.

Most Cape primrose hybrids also have large leaves, which tend to tear easily. If this happens, just cut off the damaged part. These are quite forgiving plants.

Most garden centers carry specific African violet fertilizers, which are also best for Cape primroses. Follow label directions and fertilize as needed.

Some Favorite Cape Primroses

False African Violet (Streptocarpus saxorum): Many small lilac-blue flowers are produced from densely foliated plants with small, succulent leaves.

Streptocarpus ‘Party Pinafore’: This variety boasts large, lilac-purple flowers with white lower lips striped with purple.

Streptocarpus ‘Bethan’: This cultivar has loads of medium-sized,  pale violet-blue flowers with strong venation and white throats.

Streptocarpus ‘Seren’: Flowers of palest ivory with violet picotee edges and yellow throats bloom in profusion on these long-leaved plants.

Check out your local garden center that has a good selection of house plants, and you will most likely see Streptocarpus in bloom in an array of colors.  There are even dwarf and trailing varieties. When it is too early to plant actual primroses (Primula spp.) outdoors, Cape primroses can be a good indoor substitute.  And, when the weather warms, you can even place pots outdoors in brightly shaded spots for a bit of porch or patio color.

Tropical Rainbow House Plants

Why wait for flowering house plants to bloom for indoor color when you can have plants that always look vivid and dramatic? Some have foliage that’s so colorful their leaves look like a Mardi Gras parade. Just a few pots will bring dazzling delight to any room with good light.

These rainbow house plants come from tropical or subtropical regions and grow best in rooms with good humidity and warmth. Plant them in premium potting soil that holds water well. Then water and feed them, keep their leaves clean and sparkling, and they’ll paint living spaces with spirit-lifting color. The hottest of the rainbow hotties include the following bold house plants.

Rainbow House Plants

Jacob’s Coat

Jacob’s coat ‘Mosaica’ is a riot of color and grows well as a house plant or seasonal ornamental.

A native of the Pacific Islands, Jacob’s Coat (Acalypha wilkesiana) is a tropical shrub that makes a wonderful potted house specimen. It has standout multicolored evergreen foliage that typically comes in shades of white, green, pink, and red. Choice selections include the pink-, peach-, green-, and purple-leaved ‘Mosaica’ and peach- and orange-hued ‘Tiki Peach Whirl’. The plants can grow quite large and should be pruned to size as needed.

Chinese Evergreen

‘Two-Tone Moonstone’ is one of many wildly colorful Chinese evergreens.

The brilliant leaves of Chinese evergreen (Agleonema spp.) are boldly colorful. These low, lush plants originate from the humid tropics and subtropics of Asia where they survive in the forest understory. Two of our favorites for color include ‘Two Tone Moonstone’, with its pink and white leaves speckled with green, and the poinsettia-like ‘Red Zircon’, which has crimson-red leaves edged in green.

Begonias

Begonia T REX™ ‘St. Nick is one of the thousands of different begonias with cheerful leaves. (Image thanks to Terra Nova Nursery)

The variety of colors that can appear in a single begonia leaf are truly impressive. Species extend from subtropical to tropical regions across the Americas, Africa, and Asia where they exist in moist, forested habitats. They have been intensively bred, resulting in thousands of impressive cultivars, such Begonia ‘Martha Stewart’ with its gold-, chartreuse- and russet-leaves, and Terra Nova’s T REX™ ‘St. Nick, with a purple- and red-centered leaves decorated with green and silvery white spotting. Another good pick from Terra Nova is Begonia SHADE ANGEL™ ‘Aurora’ with its lustrous leaves that have hints of silvery blue, lavender, raspberry pink, and ivory.

Croton

Croton ‘Mammy’ has the bonus of curly extravagant leaves.

The leaves of croton (Codiaeum variegatum) are arguably the most colorful and visually diverse of all the plants in this list. Natural populations exist in the South Pacific and Australia where they grow in open forests and shrublands.  The lush, glossy-leaved plants can take a little less water and have brilliantly patterned leaves that may have mixed shades of yellow, red, purple, white, and green. Some are broad-leaved and others elongated. We like ‘Mrs. Iceton’, with leaves of deep purple, rose, green, and yellow, ‘Lauren’s Rainbow’, with elongated leaves of purple, orange, green, and yellow, and the compact ‘Mammy’ with its curly multi-colored leaves.

Rose-Painted Calathea

Rose-painted calathea ‘Princess Jessie’ loves shade and always looks lovely.

Native to the forests of Brazil, rose-painted calathea (Calathea roseopicta) has broad, striped leaves of green, ivory, and rose. The compact plants always look and grow well in low-light areas of the home. Try the dark green, rose, and ivory ‘Princess Jessie’ (a name I like very much).

Ti Tree

Few house plants are as electric as ti tree!

The upright, lance-shaped leaves of ti tree (Cordyline fruticosa) come in lots of brilliant tropical shades. Like croton, it comes from the South Pacific and adjacent Australia where it survives in drier tropical forests. Specimens develop woody, trunk-like bases over time. Give them bright light and large pots that will allow their roots to grow freely. For color, we like the purple and magenta ‘Ruby’, and the green-, yellow- and pink-leaved ‘Morning Sunshine’.

Tricolor Prayer Plant

As the name suggests, the low-growing tricolor prayer plant (Stromanthe ‘Triostar’) has three-colored, lance-shaped leaves with bold markings of cream, rosy purple, and green. It originates from Brazilian rain forests and requires sufficient moisture and humidity for good growth.

Caring for Tropical House Plants

Aside from bright filtered sunlight, warmth, and humidity, these tropicals need plenty of rich, moisture-holding soil to dig their roots into. At planting time, provide them with containers that are several inches larger than their root balls. Make sure the pots have drainage holes at the bottom and deep saucers to catch excess water. Two of the best Black Gold mixes for substantial water-holding ability are Black Gold Waterhold Cocoblend Potting Mix, which is OMRI Listed and contains coconut coir, and Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix, which is our #1 best seller for house plants of all kinds. Keep the potting mix evenly moist, never wet, and fertilize regularly with an all-purpose fertilizer. Slow-release fertilizers are easier to apply and time-saving.

A collection of these rainbow house plants will bring spectacular looks to any indoor space. Forget about flowers! Planting with indoor foliage is the best way for busy gardeners to achieve neverending color.

How Much Water Should I Give My Indoor Succulents?

“I seem to have a problem keeping my plants happy. What is a good amount of water for succulents?” Question from Becky of Cambridge, Nebraska

Answer: It depends on the time of year and climate. It is very easy to overwater indoor succulents, especially in the winter months. Overwatering leads to root and crown rot, real succulent killers.

Watering Succulents from Winter to Fall

In general, succulents require little to no water in winter. This mimics the natural dry season that they experience in the wild. During the growing months (spring through fall), give them limited water. I often water mine between two to four times a month, depending on how hot and dry it is. In drier weather, I water them well once a week, or four times a month.

It is also essential to plant them in a very fast-draining mix, like Black Gold Cactus Mix. This will ensure that less water is held at their root zone, which will discourage rot. Also, be sure to give them as much indoor sunlight as possible. (Click here to learn more about growing succulents indoors.)

Happy succulent growing,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

 

When Do I Cut Back Orchid Stems After They Bloom?

“Do I need to cut off the stems after my orchid flowers fall off or will new flowers grow on the stems next year?” Question from Bonnie of Young, Arizona

Answer: It depends on the health and blooming stage of the flowering stem. If the stem/s are still green, prune off the spent flowers to about 1-inch above the closest node on towards the bast of the stem; this may encourage further flowering. If your spike/spikes are beginning to turn brown, prune them all the way back to the base of the plant. Always use clean, sharp shears to prune off old stems, and sterilize the shears in a 10% bleach solution before pruning another orchid. This will reduce the risk of cross-contamination if one of your orchids happens to have a disease.

Always keep a lookout for keikis. On occasion, certain common orchids will develop little plantlets on their flowering stems, called keikis. These can be nurtured, removed, and replanted as entirely new plants! (Click here to learn more about keiki removal.)

Once your orchid has finished flowering, it needs a rest before it will bloom again. The length between blooming will depend on the type of orchid you are growing. But, in general, slightly decrease the growing temperature for the orchid, and give it good care and fertilization. (Click here to learn more about how to get certain orchids to rebloom.)

Please let me know if you have any additional questions about the specific orchids you are growing!

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

 

I Need House Plants for Shade and Low Humidity!

“I have no sunlight in my home. I need plants that will thrive without direct sunlight. Any suggestions?” Question from Susan of Albuquerque, New Mexico

Answer: There are loads of low-light house plants that will thrive in indirect sun. Just be sure to set them all as close to a lit window as possible! Because of the dry air in your part of the country, I have also selected plants that will withstand low humidity. Here are some good picks for you to try:

  1. Aspidistra

    Cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior): As the name suggests, this large-leaved house plant is tough as nails. It will grow well in low light, low humidity, and can take irregular watering.

  2. Fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata): Large, glossy, unusual leaves make this indoor tree a very attractive addition to the home. It is also a tough African native that likes partial shade and intermittent watering. Give this one a larger pot to grow in and space because it can easily reach several feet.
  3. Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata): This small, understory tree from Madagascar can take low light, drought, and dry air. Choose a pretty variety, like ‘Colorama’, which has red-striped leaves.
  4. Sanseveria

    Snake Plant (Sansevieria spp.): Also called mother-in-law’s-tongue, this succulent African native makes a beautiful addition to homes and will take low light and low humidity. For best looks give it filtered sun, room temperature, well-drained soil, and once-weekly water (twice-monthly water in winter). (Click here to learn more about growing snake plant.)

  5. ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia): This is another semi-succulent African beauty with tropical good looks that grows very well in low light and drier air. Care for it as you would snake plant.

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

How to Start African Violets from Cuttings

“I want to start some special African violets for friends. How do I divide or take cuttings from them? Question from Anna of Cheboygan, Michigan

Answer: You will be happy to learn that African violets are one of the easiest houseplants to propagate! The process does not even require rooting hormone.

Starting African Violets from Cuttings

Newly stuck African violet leaves in vermiculite.

All you have to do is take leaf cuttings from African violets and give them good care until they root and sprout. Simply cut healthy leaves from the base of the petiole (stem) and insert them in moist Black Gold Vermiculite. Maintain high humidity and keep them out of direct sunlight. After a month or so they should root. Then within a couple more weeks, new leaves will slowly develop from the petiole base. Once the sprouting African violets look like small plants, move them into small pots filled with Black Gold African Violet Mix. They should start growing happily straight away! I also encourage you to watch our video on African violet care below, to ensure your little plants grow to their fullest.

Happy African violet growing!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

The Best Fragrant House Plants

Orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata)

In the Pacific Northwest, where our winter days are often rainy and overcast, (some would say dark and gloomy), it is a bonus to have an indoor environment where plants grow and thrive. If the plants also have fragrant blooms, it’s even nicer.

The limiting factor for most of these floriferous house plants is the lack of adequate light, so if a spot in a sun room or near a bay window is available that would be ideal. I also refer to these plants as being double-duty, because they can be outdoors in the summer and then brought indoors for the winter. Most of the bloomers on this list have white or ivory flowers that are naturally moth pollinated and exude their most powerful fragrance at night.

Gardenia

Gardenia

There is a wide assortment of gardenias (Gardenia spp.) to chose from, with some being quite winter hardy here in the western part of the Pacific Northwest. I have had Gardenia ‘Frostproof’ (Gardenia jasminoides Frostproof’) for several years, and it blooms outside for most of the summer. While the flowers are small, they have the typical gardenia fragrance. I leave my plant outdoors, but it could also be a winter blooming house plant. Gardenia ‘Mystery’ (Gardenia jasminoides ‘Mystery’) is a double-flowered variety used by florists, and if given an indoor location with lots of light, it will make a very nice house plant.

Dwarf Citrus

Citrus blossoms are wonderfully fragrant and you can’t beat the fruits!

Dwarf citrus (Citrus spp.) are excellent choices for double-duty plants. Meyer lemon is probably the most widely planted, and if placed in a container of adequate size, it can live for many years. Citrus like heat and can be outside in full sun during the summer and then brought indoors for the winter. Meyer lemon will bloom with fragrant white flowers throughout the year and will also bear lemons at a fairly young age. If the plant has been outdoors all summer, spray it thoroughly with water before bringing it inside to wash off any insects that might be present. Be sure to bring the plant indoors before a frost. (Click here to learn more about growing indoor citrus.)

Pink Jasmine

Pink jasmine, (Jasminum polyanthum)

Another house plant is pink jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum). The vine produces masses of fragrant, star-like flowers that are reddish-pink on the outside, white on the inside, and intensely fragrant. This is a fairly reliable bloomer that flowers through most of the late winter and early spring. It is a fast grower and needs a small trellis for its twining stems to climb. Trim it regularly to keep it check.

Orange Jasmine

Orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata) is a compact plant with waxy white flowers that have an orange-blossom fragrance. Young plants start blooming early on. This is an easy-to-grow house plant that blooms reliably.

Madagascar Jasmine

Madagascar jasmine (Stephanotis floribunda, image by Scott Z.)

Often used in wedding bouquets because of its intensely fragrant white flowers, Madagascar jasmine (Stephanotis floribunda) is best grown as a house plant in cold climates. The vigorous evergreen vine needs something to twine up and likes humidity, so mist it on a regular basis. If given enough light, it will bloom indoors during the winter. The fragrance of the flowers will easily fill a room.

Pinwheelflower

Gardenia Crape Jasmine (Gardenia jasminoides), white flowers with green leaves

Like many of the other house plants listed, pinwheelflower (Tabernaemontana divaricata) has fragrant white flowers and evergreen foliage. The tender shrub is native to Southeast Asia but grows very well indoors in pots. It blooms the most in spring but may produce additional flowers throughout the year. The waxy white, blooms are most fragrant at night.

Over watering and poor drainage are common reasons for these house plants to diminish. Planting them in a premium potting mix that drains well will help ensure growing success. My mix of choice is premium Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix. It has ingredients to help with drainage in addition to added fertilizer that lasts for up to six months. Start a regular fertilization regime several months after potting.

In addition to giving them plenty of light, keep your plants away from dry heat sources, such as heating vents or a fireplace, as this will stress the plants and their foliage. Once your fragrant house plants start to bloom, you will be glad you planted them. Their flowers and scent brighten dreary winter days, making the indoors just a little more enjoyable.

Succulent House Plants: Winter Light, Water, and Temperature

“My cactus and succulents are indoors and under lights all year. Should I try to give them a dormancy period with less light and lower room temps in the winter?” Question from Kendra of Humboldt, Iowa

Answer: It looks like your succulents have plenty of light! They look great. Keep them under lights for winter, but feel free to turn them off at night. If you want to save money on lighting bills, consider bringing them outdoors in the summer months, after the threat of frost has passed. They will thrive in the natural sunlight. Just be sure to check them for insects before bringing them back indoors in fall; cleaning the plants with insecticidal soap is also a protective measure.

When it comes to winter growing temperatures, cacti and succulents do like it a little cooler. Maintaining a room temperature between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit would be ideal.

Water less, too. Indoor succulents tend to require little to no water during the winter months. This mimics the winter dry season that they experience in their natural habitats, so be sure to water them very sparingly during the cold season. It also pays to plant them in a premium, fast-draining mix, like Black Gold Cactus Mix.

I hope this answers your questions!

Happy succulent growing!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

 

Jade Jewels: Remarkable Jade Plants for Connoisseurs

Golden jade has remarkable sunset-hued leaves. (Image thanks to Mountain Crest Gardens)

A mature, well-formed jade (Crassula ovata) is an arboreal treasure of a house plant worthy of indoor garden ardor. Its thick, trunk-like stems ascend to a rounded top with glistening clusters of fleshy, jade-colored leaves. In winter, happy plants will do double duty by producing a wealth of starry white flowers. But, succulent connoisseurs know there are other remarkable crassulas that take everyday jades to a whole new level!

Growing Jades

Excess summer heat and sun can cause stress, resulting in orange-brown tinged foliage.

All jades are tough—a testament to their droughty African origins. They grow best in filtered or partial sunlight, and during the winter months, they require low water to mimic the dry winters of their home country. Plant them in pots of porous soil with moderate organic matter and excellent drainage. Black Gold Cactus Mix is the perfect medium for jades to dig their roots into.

In the summer, bring jades outdoors to bask in the natural heat and filtered sunlight. (If you live in USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11, you can grow them outdoors year round). Give them moderate water, and be sure to allow the soil to become quite dry between watering. Avoid placing them in full hot sun, because this can cause sunscald and heat stress, resulting in orange-brown-tinged foliage.

Before bringing them back inside in fall, check them from scale insects and mealybugs. Washing and spraying the stems and leaves with insecticidal soap will help. It’s also good to remove and replace the top inch of potting medium to remove any pests that may be harboring there.

Remarkable Jades

Golden jade

Golden Jade (Crassula ovata ‘Hummel’s Sunset’): You can’t miss golden jade, with its leaves in sunset shades of green, red, yellow, and orange. It reaches two to three feet high when mature, and its leaves are most colorful when placed in bright filtered sunlight. Golden jade is relatively slow growing and has white winter flowers.

Gollum jade

Gollum Jade (Crassula ovata ‘Gollum’): As the name suggests, the leaves of ‘Gollum’ jade look like creepy, tubular, suction-cup fingers of green with red edges. The plants age to a sturdy four feet tall and always receive comments from passersby. If you love jades, you have to grow this one!

Ripple jade (Image thanks to Mountain Crest Gardens)

Ripple Jade (Crassula arborescens subsp. undulatifolia): This more compact jade reaches just one foot high and has undulating leaves of bright blue-green. It will grow quickly if placed in bright light and bears starry white winter flowers.

Silver dollar jade

Silver Dollar Jade (Crassula arborescens): The extra-large, silvery leaves of this jade plant are edged in red. Mature specimens reach a bushy two feet high and wide, making them just the right size for potted indoor specimens. Their starry, pink and white winter flowers play off the brightly colored leaf edges.

Tricolor jade (Image thanks to Cologne University)

Tricolor Jade (Crassula ovata ‘Tricolor’): Bright variegated leaves of green, yellow, and ivory are the star of this unique jade plant. It reaches over one foot high and bears white flowers in winter. Like most variegated plants, it is slower growing than standard Crassula ovata.

Sources

When in full flower, jade plants look extra pretty.

Mountain Crest Gardens has a wonderful array of jades for online purchase, and their plants always arrive at your door fresh and healthy. You can also check quality garden centers or plant nurseries in your area that carry interesting selections of succulents.

Give your connoisseur jades good care, and they will be with you for a long time. Specimens have been known to live for as many as 100 years! They are true house plant investments.