Monday, June 20, 2011

List: Houseplants Which Bloom More or Less Continuously

There aren't very many plants which will actually bloom year-round, but there are a few, and there are even more than that with long bloom periods that might as well be continuous bloomers. As always, whether or not you actually see continuous blooming from one of these plants in your home is going to depend on whether or not you're providing the care it needs.

It's a short list this time, because honestly, I had a lot of trouble coming up with much. (It's a valuable characteristic because not many plants have it.) So by all means, if you know of another plant that belongs on the list that I haven't included, leave a note in the comments.

Abutilon cvv. (pictured: 'Bella Pink') have their flaws, but reluctance to bloom isn't one of them. I have three of the 'Bella' series, and 'Bella Pink' is rarely without at least one bloom, 'Bella Vanilla' flowers nearly as often, and I haven't seen a flower out of 'Bella Red' in months and months. Don't know why.

We had Acalypha reptans most of the time when I worked at the garden center -- it wasn't an incredibly strong seller -- and I didn't like it very much, because it was messy, but I don't remember seeing them without flowers very often.

Anthurium cvv. (shown: NOID) I have personally had a single Anthurium plant in bloom for two years straight before. This is at least partly because Anthurium flowers are very long lived: two to three months, on many varieties.

I haven't personally grown a Bougainvillea (shown: NOID) indoors ever, but I'm told that they can bloom continuously in at least some circumstances, and people do grow them indoors, so I think they technically count.

Euphorbia milii (shown: NOID) does seem to go through occasional brief rest periods for me, but that might have more to do with our weather than with day length. Certainly it blooms a lot of the time even if it does take breaks occasionally.

Hoya lacunosa blooming happens in waves for me: it produces a bunch of flowers about a week after a watering, then takes a break for a week, then flowers again. It's the only Hoya I have that's actually been willing to flower for me, but does so really easily.

Justicia scheidweileri (also still known as Porphyrocoma pohliana and a few other things) seems to be blooming much harder for me now that the days are longer, but it's at least had visible bracts, if not the actual flowers, for most of the last year. It did take a short break in the winter.

Murraya paniculata is another wave-type bloomer, with flower buds appearing in huge numbers about a week after a watering, then opening, drying up, and falling off a few days later. The smell can sometimes be intense. This photo shows only the one flower, but this particular plant can easily produce 50 at a time; I'd apparently caught it at a bad moment.

My personal Saintpaulias (shown: NOID) -- with one exception -- are all ungrateful assholes who haven't bloomed in about four months now, and seem determined to make me furious with them. (The exception is a plant I've had for a long time, which has truly never been completely without flowers in at least a couple years.) See below for theories. But other people, not me, get them to bloom all the time.

Spathiphyllum cvv. (shown: NOID) do have something of a bloom season (roughly February to October), but in good conditions, they can form blooms at any time.


The only two on this list that I haven't tried to grow are the Acalypha and the Bougainvillea, so I can't really speak to how easy or difficult they might be. Of the others, my three recommends would be Anthurium cvv., Euphorbia milii, and Hoya lacunosa, with Abutilon as an honorable mention.1

Anthurium cvv. and I have been friends for a very long time now. I grow mine in a large, east-facing window, so they get morning sun, though the light is somewhat filtered by other plants. Soil choice is very important -- the plant in the photo above was killed by a badly-timed repotting into soil that was too heavy. (I recommend cutting a regular, good potting mix about 50-50 with coarse, unchopped sphagnum, though smaller plants in smaller pots can usually be potted into unamended potting mix.) It's been my experience that keeping them too wet is more likely to be fatal than letting them get too dry, though in an appropriate potting mix you have more leeway than you'd think. A lot of people say they need high humidity and warmth; I haven't found humidity to be that critical with the varieties I have, but temperature is still important -- mine are at about 70-75F / 21-24C, round the clock. They'll bloom without much fertilizer, but blooms are larger and more abundant when they're well-fed. Flowers are unscented.

I had my Euphorbia milii for over a year before figuring out how to convince it to bloom: it turned out to need more fertilizer and light than I was giving it. They're a little more difficult than the average succulent Euphorbia, in that they prefer to be a little wetter than you'd expect, but they're very tolerant of low humidity and fairly resistant to pests. (Mealybugs are always a problem.) The sap is poisonous, as is the case for most/all succulent Euphorbias: definitely avoid contact with eyes, keep away from children/pets, the usual drill. Flowers are unscented.

Hoya lacunosa isn't much to look at, but it flowers freely in bright light (mine didn't start to bloom until I had it almost touching a pair of fluorescent shop lights -- the leaves began to yellow and everything -- but once started, it's never really stopped, even though I moved it away from the shop lights ages ago), if kept well-fed. Some direct sun helps. The flowers have a strong pleasant scent, which to me smells like a florist's display case.

For the traditional anti-recommend, I'm torn between Saintpaulia and Bougainvillea, but I think I have to go with Saintpaulia.

Bougainvillea I mostly dislike because they get big and awkward to move around, plus they have large, sharp thorns. This is why I've never tried to grow one.

Saintpaulia and I, on the other hand, have tried over and over, and with a single exception, it's never gone well. Usually I wind up underwatering at some point and they die, but currently I think the problem might be cyclamen mites. All but one of my Saintpaulias stopped blooming a few months ago; several have been producing stunted, curled or twisted leaves; and one of the ones with the twisted leaves also has weird tan patches on the newest leaves. This could be an indication of cold damage, which a couple people have suggested to me by e-mail, and they were in the (cold) plant room all winter so that's plausible, but I moved all of them into the (warmer) living room a few weeks ago, and they're acting the same or getting worse. I'll try to get some photos up sometime this week, in hopes that someone can confirm or rule out the cyclamen mite theory.

This is not typical of most people's experiences with African violets, and it wasn't typical of my experiences until about February, but I'm finding it very hard to come up with anything nice to say about them at the moment.

Not pictured:
  • Begonia cvv. (wax begonias, maybe also Rieger begonias and non-stop begonias)? I saw wax begonias mentioned as constant bloomers on a website or two while I was writing this; I don't know if it's actually true when they're grown indoors.
  • Brugmansia cvv. (reader suggestion)
  • Codonanthe cvv. (some cvv.) (reader suggestion)
  • Columnea cvv. (some cvv.) (reader suggestion)
  • Episcia cvv., at least some cvv. (flame violet) My Episcia 'Coco' has been in nearly-constant bloom since I got it last summer. It's been under artificial light, so it's possible it's confused about what time of the year it is. None of my other Episcias are anywhere near as consistent as 'Coco' is, though.
  • Fuchsia cvv. (reader suggestion)
  • Hibiscus rosa-sinensis cvv. (tropical hibiscus) The ones we overwintered in the greenhouse at work were more or less constant bloomers, though they did slow down considerably in the winter. I'm presently finding it tough to say anything nice about Hibiscus as well. I almost decided not to try to overwinter them last year, because they'd gotten spider mites bad the year before, but I went ahead and saved them anyway. They didn't get mites, but large sections of both plants died; I should have gone with my first impulse and chucked them.
  • Hoya bella (reader suggestion)
  • Impatiens cvv. (some cvv.) (reader suggestion)
  • Kohleria cvv. (some? all?) Long bloom period but not, strictly speaking, ever-blooming. (reader suggestion)
  • Mammillaria rhodantha (reader suggestion)
  • Mandevilla cvv. Another one that bloomed continuously in the greenhouse at work, but might or might not in the home. They're so prone to spider mites that I would never bring one into my house on purpose, though.
  • Osmanthus fragrans (sweet olive) (reader suggestion)
  • Oxalis cvv. (some cvv.)? Another one I saw on websites but have no direct personal experience with. I know for certain that not all Oxalis varieties bloom continuously.
  • Pelargonium cvv. (geranium) Another one that bloomed continuously in the work greenhouse. I think most people either throw them out in the fall or bring them in and let them go dormant, so I'm not sure how practical of a suggestion this is, but it's at least technically feasible.
  • Psychopsis cvv. (an orchid) (reader suggestion)
  • Rosa cvv. (miniature roses) (reader suggestion)
  • Streptocarpus cvv. (cape primrose) If grown under artificial light. (reader suggestion)
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1 Abutilon only gets an honorable mention because they're not without their difficulties. My plants, all three varieties, are extremely messy, dropping leaves and spent flowers more or less constantly, which is annoying. They grow fast enough to replace the leaves they're dropping, but still. They're also inclined to flop over, to an obnoxious degree: I could probably fix this by keeping a fan on them, or staking the stems, but for whatever reason(s), I haven't done that. I also haven't pruned them the way I should -- I don't know what way one should prune Abutilons, but whatever it is, I know I haven't done it -- which means they're floppy, asymmetrical plants that would accumulate a pile of debris underneath them if I didn't move them to water every 7-14 days. (Instead, they leave a trail of debris from the basement, where I keep them, up the stairs and into the plant room.)
They also are extremely intolerant of drought, prone to whitefly, do poorly in heat, and need bright light and a lot of fertilizer in order to bloom, so they're not the easiest plants. For all their flaws, though, they're still one of the best fits for the category, because they really will bloom year-round.
Around here, not all establishments carry Abutilons, and those that do tend to have only the 'Bella' types, and they're only available in the spring at the start of the outdoor gardening season, but it might be different where you live. They can also be ordered on-line from a number of different places, if you're looking for something variegated or whatever.


16 comments:

Ginny Burton said...

Osmanthus fragrans blooms heavily from fall through spring, and by keeping it cool and out of direct sun in the summer, I get it to bloom then, too.

This is the one plant that I am astonished that you don't have. The fragrance is heavenly, the mess is minimal (tiny flowers), and it is a very handsome plant.

Kenneth Moore said...

I've had ill luck with Saintpaulia before, too, but maybe 'Tiny Wood Trail' in the glass jar will bloom for me!

I ha an Oxalis in my office under a desk lamp with grow bulbs bloom almost constantly for about two years. It only paused when I started overloving my plants (overwatering). It was in a poorly draining mug. It was a mug. Y'know. For coffee. It looked cute to me, but perhaps wasn't the best location for such a plant. Did well, anyhow!

Diana said...

I can confirm that rose-type begonias will bloom non-stop for years in the right conditions. I kept mine in a bright window where they got afternoon sun. They are kind of messy (dropping old leaves and blooms frequently), eventually get leggy and I had some problems with pests.

I did keep several of them blooming for two years straight before composting them. I replaced them with Anthurium. They require much less effort.

Long Haired Lady Rider said...

Well here is what I can add from my growing experiences:

Yes, Saintpaulias will bloom continuously. You actually have to take buds off for a while in order to get a beautiful head of blooms if you are growing a show plant.

Streptocarpus hybrids bloom continuously under lights. In natural light they slow down a lot in the wintertime, but will keep putting up some bloom stalks.

Episcia hybrids and species bloom continuously in natural light -- if you keep them warm enough. They are also everblooming under artificial light. But with a lot of Episcias, who cares about the blossoms anyways, you know what I mean? I don't have any now, but my memory is that Alsobia is everblooming also.

Some Columneas and Codonanthes are everblooming, but some are seasonal, so you have to know what you are getting. Nematanthus and Aeschynathus have all been seasonal bloomers for me.

My wax begonia blooms continuously. In fact I love her so much that I have been considering getting more wax begonias to keep her company. Very undemanding plant!

I've had Impatiens indoors and blooming continuously in the past. Same for those miniature roses that people give you, but they need a lot of light to keep blooming.

The Oxalis that I have grown will grow and bloom for a long time, but all will eventually need a period of dormancy. It might take over a year, though, and if you have something blooming for a year straight you could be forgiven for calling it everblooming, couldn't you?

Come to think of it, Kohlerias often act the same way as Oxalis at least at my house.

I've never had geraniums in bloom for 12 months but I could see how it could happen. In the fall I take slips (I do indeed throw out the mother plant) which I pot in 6-packs, and I generally neglect them all winter -- just enough light and water so that they don't die. In February/March I start to treat them better and they do bloom their heads off until the next fall.

Gawd, this got long. Feel free to edit out the boring parts.

Paul said...

The Fuschia genus and brugmansias both will bloom readily indoors.

I've never seen an indoor-blooming bougainvillea, but I don't doubt they're possible. And they ARE tedious w/their thorns, but that's part of their appeal for me.

mr_subjunctive said...

Ginny Burton:

I've still never seen Osmanthus for sale anywhere around here.

Diana:

Reiger begonias, you're talking about, or some other one? The garden center sells "non-stop" begonias every year, which are partly doubled (my memory is that the female flowers were doubles and the male flowers were singles), or possibly the other way around. The selling point was that they would bloom non-stop, but they were also being sold for outdoor use, so "non-stop" only had to be May to October.

Long Haired Lady Rider:

Well, I wouldn't say I'd buy any Episcias specifically for the flowers, but they add something, sometimes. (I've seen a few color combinations that struck me as in questionable taste.)

And duh, I should have thought of Impatiens.

At the garden center, we tried to let our geraniums go dormant in the winter, but they often wouldn't, so there was a regular job of pulling them down from where we had them stored and removing all the flowers and buds.

mr_subjunctive said...

Paul:

I'm a little hesitant to include Brugmansia as an indoor plant -- I've never seen one indoors, even in a greenhouse, that wasn't also buggy as hell -- but I suppose if I included Rosa then I have to include Brugmansia too.

Justin said...

If you include orchids in the list then any one of the orchids in the Psychopsis genus are wonderful year round bloomers. The flowers of Psychopsis bloom successively on the same inflorescence(held high above the leaves) for years, I've heard as many as 15-20. As the plant ages it can develop 5 or 6 inflorescenses with 3 or 4 blooming at any given moment. They also have very attractive mottled foliage to boot.

I have found Psychopsis to be wonderful indoor growers as well, and have been quite pleased with how well mine have done, especially in comparison to other orchids.

Ivynettle said...

It's the other way round for the begonia flowers - females are single, males are double (IIRC, the stamens turn into extra petals). I regularly have that discussion with my customers - 'no, I don't want that one, I want one with double flowers' - 'you'll always get double and single flowers on the same plant because blah-blah-blah...' Though one customers made me laugh when he pointed out that I couldn't really call them 'male' flowers any more if they don't have any male parts any more.

Anyway - wax begonias?! Ugh. Who'd want to grow wax begonias indoors? They're bad enough outdoors. Sorry, but I'm prejudiced ... they're one of the few plants I absolutely hate!

Not fond of Saintpaulia, either. I had to throw my last one out because of mites, and the one I have now isn't blooming either, and now I'm trying to come up with a way of 'accidentally' killing it...

mr_subjunctive said...

Justin:

Huh. I've seen some Psychopsis (or at least intergenerics with some Psychopsis ancestry, judging by the photos that come up in a Google search) for sale occasionally, but passed them up because I assumed they were difficult.

Of course, orchids seem to be difficult for me in general, especially lately, so perhaps not-buying was still the right call.

Ivynettle:

I don't have strong feelings about wax begonias either way; I'd probably try them at some point if I thought they'd be easy to grow, but the ones at work were not nearly as drought-tolerant as plants in my home need to be.

Interestingly, one of the last times I visited the ex-job, the current greenhouse manager asked me if I'd ever tried to start them from cuttings; apparently they had trouble getting any in this year. So perhaps everybody else is getting sick of them too?

Nancy in Sun Lakes AZ said...

I just have one to suggest and it's Hoya bella. It blooms continually for me here on my plant shelf in the super dry air of Phoenix. It is nice also because the plant stays relatively small compared to other hoyas.

CelticRose said...

You can add Mammillaria rhodantha to the list. I've had one for 2.5 years that has bloomed nearly every single day. It's only taken a couple of brief rest periods. You can see a closeup of one of the flowers in my avatar.

Bougainvillea blooms nonstop outdoors, but I wouldn't recommend it as an indoor plant. It's huge, thorny, and drops bracts everywhere.

mr_subjunctive said...

Nancy in Sun Lakes AZ:

I'm kind of surprised by that. Mine's bloomed once, but only one stem, only one bloom, and that was it. Maybe I'll move it to a brighter spot and see if I can convince it to repeat.

CelticRose:

I'm even more surprised about Mammillaria; I'd somehow gotten the impression that extremely seasonal blooming was just part of being a cactus, like having a water-storing trunk and spines.

Justin said...

I would give Psychopsis a try. I cultivate orchids specifically and have experience with growing many different species and have found my psychopsis to be one of the easiest I have grown. They do well in lower light conditions. I have mine in a large bark mix in a plastic pot. I water a three inch pot every three days, a four inch pot every four (in the low humidity environment of a windowsill).

Paul said...

Saintpaulia do very well for me ... in terrariums. Under other growing conditions, we have "issues".

Anonymous said...

Hey Mr Subjunctive: I happened upon your blog and enjoyed your section on ever-blooming plants. I had never seen an E. Milii until visiting a friend in Georgia who had several very old indoor versions that he was very proud of. I purchased a small one immediately, and over a period of ten years, the plant grew rapidly in my kitchen exposed to hot south-facing window sunlight. I treated it horribly, but it constantly bloomed, and all visitors marvelled at it until, one day, it developed an infestation of "scale" or whatever. I think it got spider mites too somehow. I took it outside and resorted to removing every single leaf, spraying it heavily with insecticide and rubbing alcohol, and poisoning its soil to kill the bugs. This worked, and it became lush again, at least at its upper branches, but as you probably know, once an infestation develops, odds favor re-infestation eventually, and I could no longer bear looking at it, so I destroyed it.

Now, I have a small house on the Monterey Bay, and it is common to see E. Milii growing as an outdoor shrub. I planted several in pots outside mixed with other succulents like "pork and beans" and kalanchaloe, but we had a rare 5-hour-duration freeze event that burnt and terrorized all of my delicate plants. I believe I have learned from your blog that these plants really need more warmth and care than I have given them outdoors, anyway, so I appreciate your posting!

By the way, I have also planted many small bouganvillia around my house, and I can report the following: Bouganvillia are ungrateful bastards, extremely temperamental, HATE having ANY water sprayed on them, need HIGH HEAT and LOTS of direct light, something missing from my house. What's worse is that the neighborhood is full of lush bouganvillia that taunt me with their happy displays, even after their owners have whacked them with pruning shears.

Best wishes,
Kurt