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Archive for Sunday, February 20, 2011

Garden Calendar: Tropical plants brighten home in winter

Mica Willis, Baldwin City, uses her large collection of tropical plants to brighten the dreary winter months before planting them back outside in time for spring and summer.  Here, her three dogs Sugar Bear, Hermione and Lucy  enjoy the warmth of the sunroom where many of the plants are kept in the winter months.

Mica Willis, Baldwin City, uses her large collection of tropical plants to brighten the dreary winter months before planting them back outside in time for spring and summer. Here, her three dogs Sugar Bear, Hermione and Lucy enjoy the warmth of the sunroom where many of the plants are kept in the winter months.

February 20, 2011

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Although there are plenty of different reasons to grow plants inside your home, I think Baldwin City resident Mica Willis expresses it the best.

“I just have an awful time in winter not being able to get outside,” Willis says, “and this has been an awful winter for it. The plants help me, through.”

Willis’ plants would comfort many gardeners. An elephant ear measuring 6 feet tall, flanked by almost-as-tall diffienbachias, is the focal point of the living room. The elephant ear’s giant leaves make the plant seem almost tree-like.   

Mica Willis, Baldwin City, uses her large collection of tropical plants to brighten the dreary winter months before planting them back outside in time for spring and summer.  Here, her three dogs Sugar Bear, Hermione and Lucy  enjoy the warmth of the sunroom where many of the plants are kept in the winter months.

Mica Willis, Baldwin City, uses her large collection of tropical plants to brighten the dreary winter months before planting them back outside in time for spring and summer. Here, her three dogs Sugar Bear, Hermione and Lucy enjoy the warmth of the sunroom where many of the plants are kept in the winter months.

Elephant ears are more often planted outdoors in spring, allowed to die back at frost and overwintered as bulbs. Willis instead planted the bulb in a large pot and moved the whole thing inside for winter.

“It usually blooms about now, but it got so huge that I had to transplant it this year,” she says. The plant is about 5 years old.

The real collection is in another room, though. Willis is lucky enough to have a space with windows on three sides, facing east, south and west. Large trees in her yard and at the neighbor’s keep the room from getting absolute direct sunlight, but the natural light quality is still great for a gardener.

Night-blooming jasmine or Jessamine (Cestrum nocturnum) is the largest plant in Willis’ plant room. In nature, it is a large, sprawling evergreen shrub with vinelike branches. It cannot survive Kansas winters, but it likes the heat and light of Kansas summers, so Willis moves it outside with the elephant ear each spring.

“It’s wonderful,” Willis says of the night-blooming jasmine. “It perfumes my whole yard.”

About 8 feet tall now, the plant must be cut back often to keep it under control.

Less noticeable (only because it wasn’t in bloom when I visited) but still beautiful is a large bird-of-paradise. The glossy green leaves are a nice contrast to the other plants nearby. When in bloom, the flowers truly resemble some sort of brilliantly hued tropical bird.

Willis beams a bit when she looks at the bird-of-paradise that she found at her mother’s four or five years ago. “I set it out in the sun all summer, and about October it gets buds. Right about the time it blooms is when everything outside is getting really gloomy and dark.”

Rounding out the center of the room is a ficus tree that seems amazingly healthy. (Ficus are notorious for dropping leaves even when being pampered.)

Plant stands in the windows hold a blooming orchid, Bougainvillea, a white poinsettia, dwarf papyrus, Christmas cactus, a Hoya plant and an unusual Bromeliad, among others.

Willis recommends starting to fertilize tropical plants as soon as the days begin to lengthen and to follow label directions for frequency and amount. Continue fertilizing through the spring and summer, but give the plants a rest when they are not actively growing in the fall and winter.

Also, Willis says moving large plants in and out of a house is not an easy task. Willis’ husband, Jay, is a big help with plant transport, especially with some additional plants that go to the second floor of their home each year.

Even with the snow gone, the view outside the windows is very bleak in comparison to the green of Willis’ plants.

“I just get surprised by this stuff. I don’t know for sure what they’ll do, but that’s the fun of it.”

—Jennifer Smith is the Horticulture Extension Agent for K-State Research and Extension. She can be reached at 843-7058.

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