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How to Grow Wax Plant, Hoya carnosa

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Wax plant, Hoya carnosa, is an old-fashioned houseplant much prized for its hanging clusters of waxy, star-shaped flowers. Each bud opens to reveal velvety pinkish white petals with a miniature red star in the center, so perfect as to appear artificial. But despite its exotic beauty, wax plant is not for everyone. 

Don't choose Hoya carnosa if you want instant gratification. It requires great patience, usually taking many years with nothing but leafy, vegetative growth before producing its first flowers. But once it finally begins flowering, your wax plant should bloom reliably every year. In fact, it might bloom twice annually, if you provide excellent growing conditions.

Hoya flowers fascinate, not only because of their unique appearance, but also their heavy, sweet "tropical" fragrance, so noticeable at night. In its native habitat, Hoya blossoms are pollinated by night-flying insects. Though the chances of those insects living in your home are slim to none, your wax plant will continue to behave just as it's been "programmed" through the ages, despite the change in living circumstances.

Growing a wax plant is easy. Its vining stems may be allowed to trail from a hanging container, or trained upwards on strings or a wire hoop, pushed into the soil. Give it an abundance of sunlight -- a west or south-facing window works best -- if you want it to bloom well eventually.

Never trim back the long vines, though, even though they're not particularly attractive. Short flowering stems, called spurs, grow from the youngest, leafless portions of each vine. A new set of flower buds forms each year on the same spurs. By removing them you eliminate the potential for future flowering in those locations. 

Don't pick faded flowers off, either. Instead, let spent blooms fall of their own accord to avoid risking injury to the spurs. (You might want to set something beneath the plant to collect those fallen blooms; they're usually sticky with sweet nectar.)

Always water wax plant thoroughly, using room temperature or tepid (not icy) water. Spill out any extra water that collects in the saucer below it, then allow the soil to become quite dry before you water again. Because its leaves are leathery, thick and succulent, Hoya carnosa can go a long time without water, particularly during cooler winter months indoors. 

Its root system is rather modest in size, so you can keep your wax plant in the same container several years before moving it to roomier accommodations. A larger volume of soil will stay moist longer when you water it, so never transplant Hoya from a small container to one much larger. Instead, move it up in incremental steps. Fertilize the wax plant sparingly when you see spurts of new growth developing. 

And there you have it; Hoya carnosa, a fascinating houseplant with fragrant flowers that will bloom for a lifetime....if you're patient enough to stick with it the first six or eight years with little reward.

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