Urban Gardening

Top 10 Winter Houseplants

With colder weather approaching, many of us are forced to get our gardening fix indoors. Houseplants can help us maintain a connection to nature and keep our green thumbs in shape. With thousands of plants suitable for indoor culture, it's easy to find some with flowers, foliage, or fragrance that pleases you.

The plants listed below are some of my favorites for fighting the winter doldrums. (For friends in the Southwest and Southeast, many of these are good garden plants, too.) My criteria for selection include color, fragrance, foliage, care required, longevity, and even weirdness. With a little love and attention they will flourish and provide years of winter happiness.


Aloe (Aloe spp.). This large succulent is a common houseplant and folk remedy for soothing burns or itching. It sports a candelabra of orangish flowers. If given ample light throughout the year, aloes flower profusely in winter. They need well-drained, coarse soil and bright light.


Amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.). Commonly forced into bloom during winter, these bulbs can be planted weekly in fall and early winter to provide a continual display. Keep plants in bright but indirect light to prolong the blooms.


Calla Lily (Zantedeschia spp.) Calla lilies grow from large tubers. Unlike their aroid cousins, voodoo lilies, calla lilies have an attractive flower with a pleasant fragrance. With a sparkling white, pleated spathe surrounding a golden, pollen-covered spadix, calla lily is a contender for the most beautiful flower in the world. It's especially gorgeous when it's below zero and snowing outside. Grow it in bright light and keep soil on the moist side.


Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera spp.). Christmas cacti can actually bloom anytime from fall to spring, depending on the cultivar. Unlike common desert cacti, these need regular watering and filtered light.


Clivia (Clivia spp.). This shade-tolerant perennial resembles an amaryllis but the pale orange or yellow flowers are smaller and more plentiful. The dark, strap-like leaves are assets, too. Provide filtered light and average soil moisture.


Corn Plant (Dracaena spp.). This unassuming plant has some of the most sweetly scented flowers in nature, which dangle from stalks arising from the center of the plant. Mature plants 6 feet and taller have the best chance of blooming. Provide bright light and average soil moisture.


Jewel Orchid (Ludisia spp.). This terrestrial ground cover orchid has spikes of intricate white flowers, but even when it's not in flower the dark, velvety leaves with contrasting veins make it worth growing. Filtered light and average soil moisture is best.


Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe spp.). This succulent produces masses of long-lasting, brightly colored flowers, and some types have glossy foliage. Provide bright light and dry to average soil moisture.


Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis spp.). These are probably the most recognizable orchids, with hundreds of cultivars sold everywhere from garden centers to grocery stores. Growing in treetops in tropical regions, they can bloom for months with little maintenance. Give them filtered light and average soil moisture.


Voodoo Lily (Amorphophallus spp.). Voodoo lilies sprout from large tubers in midwinter. They send up 4- to 6-foot flowers before the foliage, which emerges in late spring. As aroids, voodoo lily flowers have an outer spathe surrounding a center spadix. For three days, their funky flowers smell foul. The gross-out factor makes this a great plant for teachers to spark interest in botany. For adults, its lurid shape and disgusting odor make it a great conversation piece, if you can convince your spouse to let you keep it even after smelling the flower. They need filtered light and dry soil.

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