Heart-shaped leaves and butterfly blossoms make cyclamen a Christmas favorite. "If conditions are right, the flowers will just last forever," says Hans Gerritsen, president of the Hortus Group, specialty cyclamen growers in Castroville, California. Cyclamens flourish in chilly temperatures—ideally no warmer than 65°F—with indirect or filtered bright light, moist but well-drained soil, and foliage that is kept completely dry. Florist's cyclamen (C. persicum) is the most widely available. Latinia hybrids, whose red, purple, or salmon "flame" flowers boast a white blush and, in some cases, a sweet scent, are also a good choice, Gerritsen says. If your house is warm, try the new Metis miniature hybrids, which promise prolific blooms even in less-than-ideal conditions.
The orchidlike flowers of the Streptocarpus make it enticing and its long period of bloom makes the plant desirable. Streptocarpus has seen a recent boom in hybridization resulting in numerous compact cultivars, including the popular Streptocarpus 'Joker' and the Bristol's Series, heavy bloomers that fit into a windowsill. Once settled in cool, indirect light, they can be quite tolerant of occasional neglect. "Even if they're virtually dead, if you water them once, they'll come back to life," says Dr. Ralph Robinson, owner of the Violet Barn, in Naples, New York.
Complement the scent of holiday conifers with the subtle sweetness of winter-blooming Jasmine (Jasminum spp.). Given bright light during the day and cool nighttime temperatures, J. polyanthum produces a blizzard of white flowers that train easily around a hoop. For warmer locations and bushy growth, choose J. sambac 'Maid of Orleans', with blossoms that turn purple before fading. If you stimulate branching with regular pruning and keep the soil moist, jasmine flowers will ensure you have a white Christmas even in Zone 10.
There is no "foolproof plant," admits Kate Sadowski, horticulturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden, but in terms of winter color, Kalanchoe is about as close as you can get. When days are short and indoor conditions are dry, kalanchoes burst with star-shaped flowers ranging from yellow to purple if kept in direct light. Red Christmas kalanchoes (K. blossfeldiana) are as common as candy canes, but K. pumila, with silver foliage and pink clusters, and K. uniflora, with trailing balloonlike blossoms, are just as festive. Pinch back the stems when straggly and water when soil is dry and these succulents will embellish south-facing windowsills all winter.
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Not all types of Begonia will produce a reliable show of color during the holiday season. Only rhizomatous and winter-flowering begonias are stimulated, instead of stunted, by decreasing daylight, says Byron Martin, owner of Logee's Greenhouse, in Danielson, Connecticut. The rhizomatous beefsteak begonia, B. 'Erythrophylla'—the oldest begonia hybrid in circulation—boasts glossy leaves that are red on the reverse and a crown of bright blossoms. Other easy but prolific bloomers include B. 'River Nile', which has star-shaped leaves and bright pink blossoms, and B. 'Freddie', which has bronzed, foot-long leaves and tall spikes of dark pink flowers. Also look for Hiemalis begonias (sometimes sold as Rieger or Blush begonias)—hybrids developed to be winter bloomers.
(Hippeastrum spp.) is a popular gift item because its bulb doesn't require chilling to produce beautiful flowers. A relatively new development in the world of winter blooms is the commercial introduction of trumpet and cybister (H. cybister) varieties of amaryllis. For a trumpet-shaped, pink blossom anchored by a bright green eye, choose 'Pink Floyd'. If you prefer exotic flowers, 'Ruby Meyer' (a cybister type) has spidery petals with vivid chartreuse edges. To initiate growth, place amaryllis in bright sunlight and water whenever the top 1/2 inch of soil is dry. A cooler site is fine once growth has commenced, and will prolong the life of the bloom.
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