The end of November is the start of the winter dormant season for many plants outdoors, but this is the season of color for many holiday plants indoors.
Visiting nurseries and garden centers this time of year will inspire you to decorate and give gifts that are not only beautiful but calorie free, and a healthy way to improve your indoor air quality as well as your winter point of view. I suggest an underused houseplant as a gift plant this winter. Wrap the plastic pot in red foil, add a bow or place it in a cool container and you’ll have a unique gift that keeps on giving.
My suggestion: Bromeliads.
A touch of the tropics for someone who forgets to water
The bromeliad’s sword-like leaves (often striped) and top knot of exotic blooms is your clue that this indoor plant is related to the pineapple. They do not need a sunny window — bright light is just fine. And this is a drought-tolerant plant so these beauties can survive for weeks on one watering session.
Watering a Bromeliad the right way
Purified water is best and what this plant needs is water poured into the center of the plant or cup until you see the water overflowing into the leaf pockets and draining a bit into the soil. Do not over water and do not water frequently. How much water your bromeliad needs depends on how warm your house is and the size of the pot. Feel the soil (but remember do not water the soil) and add more water to the cup when the soil is completely dry to the touch.
Who wants pups?
Sideshoots that form on the sides of the main plant are called pups and these can be cut away when they are half the size of the mother plant and repotted for your own little litter of bromeliad babies. Usually, the pups will appear once the flower starts to fade.
Long, long bloom time
I use bromeliads outdoors in the summer as part of my mixed container gardens and indoors all winter. I have had plants stay in bloom for more than nine months. The trick is not to fertilize while the plant is flowering. After the blooms finally fade you can fertilize at half the recommended strength, and this is when you water the soil rather than the cup of foliage. Once the bloom starts to fade, the bromeliad goes into full baby-making mode and a hit of fertilizer at this time makes for many pups.
Leave your bromeliad in a small pot
The fancy foliage and striking flower makes your bromeliad the star of a mixed basket of indoor plants or as the centerpiece in a window box or container garden. Just don’t remove the plant from its pot. It likes to be pot bound, and the other plants in your arrangement will want more water than the camel-like bromeliad so keeping it in its own pot means it will be less likely to be waterlogged.
So, no direct sun, low water use, easy to propagate and tropical flair. Bromeliads should be your new favorite houseplant.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.