Now that the holidays are just around the corner, your office and home are probably awash with holiday plants. Red, pink and yellow poinsettias perch on cubicle dividers. Amaryllis steadily send their thick bloom stalks skyward. Christmas cactus are either blooming profusely or dropping their buds on the floor, much to the glee or chagrin of their owners.
Some holiday plants, poinsettias in particular, are grown to be disposed of after December. Others can easily be kept alive for years. Here is a guide for choosing and caring for holiday plants.
1. Examine the tiny yellow-green flowers at the ends of the branches. If more than one or two are open, the poinsettia will not hold its freshness for long. Poinsettias are typically sent to stores in several shipments. Ask to look at the latest arrivals before you inadvertently pick up one that has been there for weeks.
2. Poinsettia leaves should be green and healthy almost down to the soil level. If the plant has dried out in storage, the bottom leaves are the first to wilt and disappear.
POINSETTIA CARE AFTERWARDS
If the plant came in a foil wrapper, check for water at the bottom before you add more moisture to the plant. Poinsettias are accustomed to soil that’s on the dry side. If their roots sit in water day after day, the roots will rot. Check for drafts in the place you choose to display your poinsettia. Hot air from a furnace or cold air from a drafty window can make leaves dry faster than normal.
After weeks of indoor weather, poinsettias are usually on their last legs and hardly worth saving. If you want to keep them, put the plants in a sunny window and water whenever the leaves wilt slightly. Give the plants some indoor houseplant fertilizer (at half strength) in early January, repeating every four weeks until April. The poinsettia can be put outside in a semi-shaded location then. You can move it to a larger pot or plant it in a flower bed. If it is fertilized, it will grow prolifically, perhaps four feet tall by September. The plant will need cutting back at least twice in the summer to keep it small enough to bring back inside next fall. In my opinion, it is too much trouble go through the gyrations needed to once again achieve the brilliant coloration on the plant that attracted you in the first place.
CARING FOR AMARYLLIS
If you have received an amaryllis bulb recently, it has likely already sprouted some foliage. Simply place the bulb in its container in a sunny window and let nature take its course. The leaves will be followed by a thick bloom stalk and one or more magnificent flowers.
When all of the blooms have faded, cut the bloom stalk off at soil level. Sometimes a bulb will send up a second stalk in January if it is vigorous and the plant has been kept in strong light. Allow the leaves to remain on the plant and keep it in a sunny window until May. An amaryllis can be planted outdoors then for the summer. Next September, dig the bulb, cut off the foliage and keep it dry until November. With a bit of water and warmth, you may be rewarded with spectacular blooms next Christmas.
The striking red flowers of the Christmas Cactus make it an obvious candidate for holiday houseplant blooms each winter. Imagine the consternation, though, when most of the flower buds fall off of a newly purchased plant! Most of the time, the problem is caused by heat or dryness in the home. Christmas Cactus do best in a cool, sunny room. They also appreciate being misted once each day to keep the humidity high around the leaves. Water the plants only when a finger thrust into the soil comes up dry. Overwatering can lead to root rot.
Christmas Cactus should be lightly fertilized in winter. They need more nutrients when spring comes and they are hung back outdoors. It is easy to root Christmas Cactus. Simply break off a short length of branch and insert it into moist potting soil. Within a few months, the section will root and send up new leaves.
There is still plenty of time to buy bulbs and arrange them in a shallow glass container filled with pebbles. Keep the bulbs in a sunny window and they will soon have green foliage – perfect for a gift at holiday parties. If you receive one of these narcissus arrangements, put it in a bright window and wait for the blooms. Enjoy the flower perfume while it lasts, then toss the wilting leaves and bulbs on your compost pile.