How to keep houseplants happy and blooming in winter



An African violet shows its flowers.

Special at The Bluffton Packet

At the end of December, it’s vacation cleaning inside and out.

Here are some common questions and answers:

Q. I was given a potted rosemary in the shape of a tree as a gift. Can I keep it indoors all year round? How should I prune it? Can I use the sprigs of fresh rosemary in cooking? – NG, Bonney Lake

What a fragrant gift – rosemary is an herb used in many recipes.

Your potted plant will need as much sunlight as you can give it, so it is best to have a bright south-facing window. In our cloudy climate, it will get long and weak after a few months without sunshine, so make the most of it every spring by cutting off the new growth and using this fresh or dried grass. Keep a pair of scissors nearby to manicure the shape of the tree every few days if needed. Gather the size crumbs as you cut.

Rosemary doesn’t need a lot of water, so smell the soil and water it only when the first 2 inches of the soil is dry. Do not fertilize this plant in winter.

In the spring, you can gradually move it outdoors by letting it sit on a porch or covered patio for a few weeks as it adjusts to the cold. Then, in May, you can remove the tree from the container and transplant it into the ground or continue to grow it as a container plant in a warm, sunny part of the garden.

Q. I have a spider houseplant. It has a main plant with three young plants hanging from long stems of the mother plant. This is my first houseplant that is left alive and I want to make a new houseplant from the small hanging plant. When is the best time to do it? – CL, Tacoma

A. Anytime is a good time to make the cut and remove the baby spider from the mother.

You can already see new roots forming at the bottom of the hanging plant. You can cut the umbilical cord and float the baby in a glass of water for a few weeks to grow more roots. Then fill a small pot with potting soil and push the rooted plant into the ground. You may need to use a bent paperclip to secure the bottom of the plant in the soil so that the roots stay underground. Keep the soil moist but not wet.

If your spider plant receives a lot of bright light, it should start producing new babies on its own in about a year. Congratulations on becoming a parent of the plant.

Q. What advice did you give last year on how to make African violets bloom again? Something about boiled eggs? Please repeat. – Anon Email

A. The cheapest way to feed an African violet and make it bloom again is to boil an egg. Keep the chilled, unsalted water from cooking the egg and use it to water your African purple houseplants. The calcium in the egg provides a free dose of fertilizer that will make violets bloom.

Marianne Binetti graduated in Horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Contact her at


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