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.

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