The poinsettia on the left was forced into bloom for Christmas. The one on the right is an old plant that has just recently come into flower of its own accord.

GARDENER’S CHECKLIST: Week of February 11, 2021

Want color inside while it's grey and white outside? Ron offers suggestions.

* Set aside a few minutes for some mid-winter cleaning. I’m not talking about house cleaning. Rather, it is houseplant cleaning. Houseplants collect a lot of grease, grime, and dust, especially in winter when homes are not well ventilated. The easiest way to clean small houseplants is by dousing them with water in the shower. Just be sure to place aluminum foil or other covering over the soil to prevent a soil washout. Large plants can be cleaned by wiping leaves with a damp cloth. Cleaning is not just to make plants look better but grime on leaves interferes with photosynthesis and gradually weakens plants.

* Add clivia to your houseplant collection if you want a low-maintenance plant with spectacular bloom at a time when winter gloom seems to be at its peak. After a rest period of several months when all the care that was needed was an occasional watering, clivia bursts into bloom in February with a cluster of brilliant orange lily-like flowers.

Clivia, a low-maintenance houseplant, provides a break from winter gloom by bursting into bloom in late January and February.

* Water cyclamen by placing the pot in a tray or bowl of water. Pouring water onto the plants is not advisable since this often leads to rotting of leaf and flower stems. If this happens, allow the soil to dry a little and then began watering as mentioned. With some luck, affected plants should recover and continue to bloom. The same watering procedure should be used for any plant that produces leaves from a crown located at soil level. This includes most gesneriads such as African violet.

* Snip branches from forsythia, quince, apple, cherry, weigela, and other spring flowering trees or shrubs for forcing indoors. A trick to speed the rate at which these cut branches come into bloom is to soak them in the bath tub overnight. Make sure that the stems are completely submerged. Do not attempt to bathe while the branches are soaking – hey, some people need to be reminded.

* Make plans for an herb garden if you don’t already have such a garden. Few plants give as much pleasure as do herbs. They are fascinating not only for their many uses but also for their history and biology. Libraries, bookstores, and the Internet have a wealth of information on herbs. The only problem is that herbs could become so consuming you may give up other gardening interests.

* Take pictures of your winter landscape. Then study the pictures, noting what plants enhance the landscape and where there is a need for additional plants that have winter interest. Take pictures at public gardens to get ideas for new plantings if needed.

Prevent decay of leaf and flower stems of cyclamen by placing the pot in a tray or bowl of water.

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Maybe it is my frugal nature, but I am amazed at the number of healthy poinsettias that are unnecessarily tossed into the garbage can soon after the Christmas season ends.   I enjoy having the plants around the house through the entire winter since they’ll continue to provide color at a time when color is in short supply. As a result of extensive breeding, modern poinsettia varieties retain their colorful bracts for months, and often well into spring.

The key to keeping poinsettia going is to make sure it receives plenty of light.   The plants in our living room began dropping their leaves a few weeks ago but once we moved them to a brighter location they recovered nicely. It is important to keep the soil evenly moist – don’t let the soil get bone dry. The plants would also appreciate a dose of water-soluble fertilizer every few weeks.

Not only does poinsettia provide long term color, but I find it makes an attractive foliage plant. We have some potted plants that are at least 5 years old. If pinched back periodically, they’ll take on a nice bushy form. In the winter, the plants are kept near the brightest windows and then in summer we place the pots on our deck. I don’t try to force these plants back into bloom for Christmas, but they’ll often bloom of their own accord about a month later. We have one which has done just that. I look at that as a bonus for the fine foliage effects they provide the rest of the time.