A Most Problematic Plant

When I lecture on house plants, this is one of the plants that I often get asked about–clivia miniata.

Generally, despite the title of my post, it is an undemanding plant. It doesn’t need a lot of light. As I will explain in a moment, it can take a ridiculous amount of dryness.

Where the problem comes in is in getting it to bloom. This plant only blooms once a year with this lovely umbel of flowers–and that’s if you are lucky, apparently.

But here’s the trick–if you can call it that. First, you need to subject it to some fairly exacting conditions to stimulate this bloom. While I don’t put this plant outdoors in the summer, I do put it onto my enclosed sun porch. And I leave it there, at least until mid to late November or so. What the plant needs is chill, and a lot of it. I let the temperature on the porch get down to about 40 degrees before I bring the plant inside.

The second part of making this plant bloom is withholding water. This is a tip I learned from Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, which has a fabulous collection of tropical plants. From October 21 until January 21, don’t water the plant, at all, not event a drop.

It sounds nuts–and this plant has gotten so dry that it’s actually started tipping out of the pot–but clearly you can see that it hasn’t died–and it’s blooming–so it’s hard to argue with that formula.

So if you are having trouble getting your clivia to bloom, you know what to do need year: get it so cold that it’s near to, but not freezing, and then stop watering it for 3 months. It’ sounds absolutely barbaric–but again, the plants bloom, (and clearly are healthy) so who am I to argue with success?

11 thoughts on “A Most Problematic Plant

  1. Joy Taylor February 9, 2023 / 8:35 pm



  2. tonytomeo February 9, 2023 / 10:18 pm

    Perhaps that is why the perform well for us; they live out in the landscape all year.

    • gardendaze February 10, 2023 / 4:58 am

      I am always amazed when you post about something as a landscape plant–I am thinking about New Zealand Tea Tree which you did recently. I tried that once as a house plant and I don’t think it lived 2 months. The Tree ferns, which you are posting about today, I have tried twice in dwarf form. I can get about 6 months from those. Some plants definitely don’t want to grow as house plants for me, that’s for sure!

      • tonytomeo February 12, 2023 / 2:03 am

        The best houseplants are tolerant of interior climatactic conditions, which are typically arid and relatively shady. New Zealand tea tree can certainly tolerate aridity, but prefers to disperse roots to do so. It does not tolerate much chase. Most ferns prefer humidity. Boston fern happens to be a bit more tolerant of home interiors.

      • gardendaze February 12, 2023 / 6:14 am

        My home is generally more humid than most because of the high number of house plants. The fact that I group them helps too. But sometimes plants–like ferns, and calatheas, which are so darn finicky I grow them on humidity trays and they still struggle until they can get back outside–and I don’t seem to get along. I do well with the birds nest fern, which I find doesn’t need extra humidity in my cold house.

        And I so agree with you about what makes a good houseplant. Back in the day when I tried bonsai, I used to love the azaleas. You can imagine how that went! Live and learn!

      • tonytomeo February 13, 2023 / 12:28 pm

        While I lived in town, with minimal vegetation near the home, I grew all sorts of species that had no business inside, including giant yucca and coastal redwood. Of course, all the windows stayed open for most of the year.

      • gardendaze February 13, 2023 / 1:13 pm

        Oh my goodness! Coastal redwood inside! And to think people look at me strangely (and most people have no idea what I am even talking about) when I say I am growing pittosporum!

      • tonytomeo February 13, 2023 / 3:26 pm

        Coastal redwood is surprisingly tolerant of interior situations, except for aridity. While some houseplants go outside for the summer, it goes outside for the winter. Also, a tall and lanky avocado tree grew over my desk, and lived there all year, and a lemon gum eucalyptus grew in the dining room. Pittosporum is not so far fetched, and Pittosporum tobira used to be more popular as a houseplant.

      • gardendaze February 13, 2023 / 3:32 pm

        Now I know we are the same generation–I had an avocado for years!

        My pittosporum is a tobira–variegata, to be exact. By now it’s in a 14″ container. I’ve had it for 24 years, since I fell in love with the actual thing as a hedge in Italy and then realized I could grow it–or some version or it–as a house plant. Funny the things we do for memories. But it will bloom for me when I bring it outside–and it has a lovely fragrance.

        I don’t have any plants that go out for the winter (needless to say). I do wish I had a way to keep my fig a little more dormant though. It’s already leafing out….

      • tonytomeo February 13, 2023 / 3:41 pm

        Oh, we installed two hedges of Pittosporum tobira ‘Variegata’ at work. I like how the lightly colored foliage shows up among so much dark green.
        Most of the avocado trees that I remember, including the specimen over my desk, grew from seeds, probably just as you remember. It seems so silly now that we were in the Santa Clara Valley, which is famous for fruits and nuts (yes, those sorts also), but most of the avocado trees were ungrafted. In the garden, they grew very tall and very fast for the first few years before they matured enough to produce genetically variable fruit. By that time, the fruit was so high that it was out of reach. Some of us cut the trees down to bring their branching lower to the ground. Those who wanted a specific cultivar just purchased it from a nursery. Grafted trees are grafted with adult growth, so branch low to the ground and start fruiting immediately.

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