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Indoor blooms offer midwinter beauty

The needle on the color meter tilts toward “low” in midwinter, when wardrobes tend to black and gray, landscapes seem bleached and intake of vitamin D from sunshine is paltry.

Calendars claim winter has two more months, until the vernal equinox March 20. Unofficially, winter ends the moment we spot the first yellow daffodil or hopping robin, or the first day we’re emboldened to don a spring jacket.

Until then, there’s psychic sustenance to be found in flowering indoor plants, which usually require little more than a sunny window (or a grow light) and weekly watering. For many of them, blooming time can be altered by affecting one or more of their growth factors: the amount of light, water, fertilizer and temperature.

You might still have a red poinsettia in reasonable shape, but potted plants usually hold their flowers for a month or longer, and they’re encouraged to bloom by the lengthening daylight.

African violets are the most common houseplant, with a palette ranging from deep purple and blue to yellow, pink and white. Some petals sparkle when held in just the right light. Some are fringed and frilly. Their finely haired, oval/round leaves don’t like to get wet, and they’re best watered from below. Many cities have clubs affiliated with the African Violet Society of America Inc.

What we call Christmas cactus, with segmented stems ending in trumpet-like flowers, may also blossom at Thanksgiving or Easter, depending on variety.

People who planted amaryllis bulbs in early December have been watching their thick stems grow almost an inch a day (making it a great plant for kids) and explode at the top with fat red, white or pink-streaked blooms. Paperwhite bulbs bloom in as little as three weeks after being set in a bowl of gravel or marbles with water. Both are just-add-water plants.

Rising out of long, strappy leaves, orchid stems often bear stunning blooms in midwinter.

Flowers of the cyclamen, originally grown in the Mediterranean region, can be white, pink or purple.

The tiny flowers of kalanchoe form clusters of pink, yellow, orange or white. In China, people buy them for Chinese New Year.

Even geraniums – potted up and brought inside in the fall – may be blooming now.

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