Create a summer feeling inside this winter

The year-end  festivities are just about done , the decorations will soon be down and the Christmas tree is headed out the door, where it will serve as a winter preserve for the birds. And now my interior landscape will appear pretty drab against the back drop of white on the other side of the windows. This is the time of year when I take the opportunity to perk it up with few new green and flowering houseplants.

Consider replacing the Christmas tree with a potted palm to give your home a tropical look and feel to carry you through the bleak, white winter months ahead. While palms are tropical plants, there are a few that can tolerate the low light levels of a Minnesota winter, however that doesn’t mean you can stick a palm in a dark corner and expect it to survive. Growing a palm indoors in Minnesota requires exposing the plant to as much indirect sunlight as possible during the short days of January and February.

The Parlor Palm or Neanthe Palm, Chamaedorea elegans, is a dwarf palm that varies in size from 8-10 inches (which can easily sit on a table), to several feet tall. They generally top out at 4-6 feet. The plant sends out multiple tall stems that leaf out at the ends. Likewise the Reed Palm, Chamaedorea Sefreizii, can also grow in low light but will grow much taller in brighter light. While both of these palms will tolerate low light levels they are sensitive to cool temperatures, so keep them out of drafts and away from leaky windows.

The Kentra or Sentry Palm, Howea Forsterana, and the Lady Palm, Rapis excelsa, are less sensitive to cool temperatures but require more sunlight. Both are slow growing plants. The Kentra Palm has very large fronds and can eventually reach your ceiling at which point you will have to move or get rid of the plant because you cannot cut palms back. The Lady Palm is more shrub-like than tree-shaped and has a very “oriental” look. It is also a little more expensive to purchase, probably because it takes such a long time to grow to marketable size.

If you have a very bright west or south facing set of windows you could possible grow a high-light palm such as the Chinese Fan Palm, Livostonia chinesis, or the European Fan Palm, Chamearops humilis. As the names suggest the foliage is fan like; the Chinese Palm having huge fronds and the European having more lace like fronds.

In spite of the varied light requirements the care of the palms is the same for all varieties. The most common growing problem is brown leaf tips or margins. This problem is directly related to the watering and fertilizing of the plant. Keep the soil relatively moist. Always grow the plant in a pot with functioning (unplugged) drain holes and a saucer underneath; water thoroughly until the water drains into the saucer and dump off the excess water. Fertilize in the late winter through the early fall when the plant is actively growing. Excess fertilizer salts in the soil are what cause the brown tips and margins, especially when the soil is too dry, so fertilize lightly. Keep the fronds clean of dust so that the plant can absorb the maximum sunlight. Also spider motes that may have been brought in on your Christmas tree are attracted to dusty foliage.

If you are interested in adding a little color to your living space, try forcing flowering bulbs. Some of you may have been the recipient of amaryllis bulbs during the holidays and now is the time to start the growing process.

If you have some bulbs that you didn’t get planted last fall you can also try forcing them now and possibly have some blooming flowers by the end of March. The thing to be aware of is that bulbs need a cold treatment in order to bloom properly. Packaged bulbs have already received the cold treatment, but if you are using bulbs that you purchased last fall for planting outside you will have to give them a cold treatment. For the cold treatment the bulbs should sit in 35° to 48° temperatures in an unheated attic or basement for 12-13 weeks; if your bulbs have not been stored in those conditions you can apply a cold treatment by placing the bulbs in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator in a plastic bag with holes cut into it.

After the cold period, you can force the bulbs in soil, using a mixture of 3 parts garden loam, 2 parts peat moss, and 1 part sand. Be sure to start with a clean sterile pot and fill the pot loosely within an inch of the top. Place the bulbs in the soil with the tip exposed (do not bury the bulb).  Plant the bulbs close together; 6 tulips, 3 hyacinths, 6 daffodils or 15 crocus will fit in a 6-inch pot. Never expose the bulbs to temperatures above 65°; water immediately and never let the soil dry out. There is no need to fertilize as the bulb has all the food energy it needs to produce a single bloom. Place it in a cool sunny location. Try to keep it in temperatures of 50°-60° for the first week and gradually moving it to a warmer location. The flowers should bloom in three to four weeks.

Happy New Year and enjoy your indoor gardening this winter.