Plants for a Cold Windowsill

Question:  We live in an old home, and most of the windows are quite cold.  I’m afraid that my windowsill will be much too cold for growing violets in the middle of winter.  Any suggestions on what I can grow there?

Answer:  Actually, violets will tolerate a good deal of cold.  We grow some (showplants even) on the windowsills of our glasshouse that, on some very cold days, will be covered with ice on the inside.  Most violets will easily tolerate temperatures down to 60f degrees before showing signs of distress.  Below this temperature, you might notice crowded growth in the plant center, and hairy, brittle, leaves.  It will just “stop growing” and only reluctantly flower.  Even then, the occasional night down to 50f degrees or so may not irreparably harm most varieties.

One solution would be growing some of the Saintpaulia (African violet) species, many of which will actually prefer your cool windowsill–it will remind them of their native habitat high in the mountains of East Africa.  Another solution is to grow some African violet relatives, such as Streptocarpus  or Primulinaa.  These are two very easy to grow gesneriads that thrive in cool conditions.  Care for both is similar to violets, but they’ll easily tolerate your chilly windowsill.  If space is a consideration, you might want to try growing a couple of the miniature species of Primulina, like P.tamiana (probably one of the easiest of all plants to grow and bloom).  Another good choice would be Petrocosmea, most of which are very small in size and will grow and bloom well in a cool location.  There are other choices, but these are some of the easiest to find and grow.

Suggestions for a Cold Windowsill

Question:  We live in an old home, and most of the windows are quite cold.  I’m afraid that my windowsill will be much too cold for growing violets in the middle of winter.  Any suggestions on what I can grow there?

Answer:  Actually, violets will tolerate a good deal of cold.  We grow some (showplants even) on the windowsills of our glasshouse that, on some very cold days, will be covered with ice on the inside.  Most violets will easily tolerate temperatures down to 60f degrees before showing signs of distress.  Below this temperature, you might notice crowded growth in the plant center, and hairy, brittle, leaves.  It will just “stop growing” and only reluctantly flower.  Even then, the occasional night down to 50f degrees or so may not irreparably harm most varieties.

One solution would be growing some of the Saintpaulia (African violet) species, many of which will actually prefer your cool windowsill–it will remind them of their native habitat high in the mountains of East Africa.  Another solution is to grow some African violet relatives, such as Streptocarpus  or Chirita.  These are two very easy to grow gesneriads that thrive in cool conditions.  Care for both is similar to violets, but they’ll easily tolerate your chilly windowsill.  If space is a consideration, you might want to try growing a couple of the miniature species of Chirita, like C.tamiana (probably one of the easiest of all plants to grow and bloom).  Another good choice would be Petrocosmea, most of which are very small in size and will grow and bloom well in a cool location.  There are other choices, but these are some of the easiest to find and grow.

Streptocarpus: Too Much Bloom?

Question:  I recently purchased a young Streptocarpus from you in a 2″ pot.  It started blooming for me almost immediately in this small pot.  The problem is, the plant itself hasn’t seemed to grow very much since I got it.  Even though it’s blooming, am I doing something wrong?

Answer:  Streptocarpus are one of the easiest to grow and most rewarding of all gesneriads you can grow.  They can be very tolerant of neglect, and given the same conditions as African violets, will bloom almost constantly.  We’ve grown streps that have been in bloom (or bud) every day for five years or more.  Their readiness to bloom, though, can be a problem, especially for those varieties that are especially eager to flower.  There are some varieties that bloom before they’ve “matured”–before much foliage has fully developed.  When this happens, all of the plant’s energies are diverted away from foliage production and towards bloom production.  This can result in some pretty odd-looking plants.  Two examples are ‘Bristol’s X-ray Vision’ and ‘Bristol’s Sunset’, hybrids of ours that seem to want to bloom after having produced only one leaf in the pot.  Left alone, they’ll sit there with one lonely leaf in a tiny pot and a full head of 6 or 8 flowers or more.  Eventually, of course, they’ll bloom themselves out, leaving old, yet undeveloped, foliage that is unattractive and can barely sustain itself.

Our solution is to not allow these plants to bloom until they have produced enough foliage an matured enough to sustain both foliage and flowers.  We simply cut off flower stems before they have a chance to develop.  This forces the plant to produce more leaves, larger leaves, and produce them faster.  When the plant is finally allowed to bloom, it will bloom even more heavily than it would have, had it not been disbudded.  As a general rule, we don’t allow streps to bloom until we’ve potted them into 3″ pots.  Except for the smaller growers, most varieties will eventually grow into 5″ (or larger) pots when fully mature.

We do the same for our violets, removing the first set of flower buds that appear.  This allow the plant to develop more fully before first bloom.  This means waiting a few more weeks, but it also means that when the plant does bloom, it produces a full head of bloom and a more developed plant.  The plant is happier, and the reward is worth the wait.

Tips for Growing Columneas

Question:  My Columnea are never as beautiful as yours.  My conditions are good, but they always look weedy and don’t bloom very heavily.  What am I doing differently?

Answer:  Like violets and most other plants, Columnea nearly always bloom from the newest growth.  This means that the more new, healthy growth there is, the more potential there is for blooming.  Assuming that there is sufficient light and the culture is otherwise good, proper pruning is important in maximizing both foliage and blossom production.  Treat columnea and other branching or vining gesneriads like Nematanthusand Aeschynanthus like you would a hedge.  Why do you regularly trim a hedge?  If you don’t, it just grows tall and spindly, and never has that dense, thick, lush look.  Trimming it occasionally forces it to branch and produce new growth, filling in those empty spaces and giving it a full look.

Doing the same to your columnea has the same effect.  Let each branch produce one or two new pairs of leaves, then cut the tips.  This cut branch will then produce two (or more) branches which can, themselves, be cut when they’ve produced enough new growth.  If done regularly, what began as relatively few cuttings in a pot can be made into a very full-looking plant with lots of new growth being produced.  Once you achieve the “full” look that you desire, stop pruning and let the plant grow.  Disciplining the plant’s growth early will reward you later.

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