How to Care for Holiday Plants

Lynn Coulter
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Christmas cactus

Poinsettias and other flowering plants brighten the season, much like the twinkling lights and ornaments on Christmas trees. Eventually, the decorations have to come down, but you can enjoy living plants long after the holidays. All you have to do is give them a little loving care. If you don’t have room to keep these holiday beauties, consider passing them along to a shut-in or friend.

Poinsettias

poinsettias

Probably more than any other holiday plant, poinsettias symbolize the season. Today, we have more color choices than ever, with blooms of red, pink, creamy white, salmon, and apricot. Some varieties are speckled or marbled.

To keep your poinsettia happy, give it bright, indirect light indoors, away from drafts. The plants prefer 65 to 70 degree temperatures during the day and a 10-degree drop at night. Water when the soil starts to feel dry, but don’t let the plants stand in excess water. Feed every two weeks with a 10-10-10 fertilizer while your poinsettia is actively growing.

To coax your plant to to re-bloom, keep it in complete darkness for 14 hours a day, starting around the first of October. (See below for tips about growing poinsettias outdoors.)  Most people simply enjoy the blooms, which last a long time, and then compost the plants and replace them next year.

Cyclamens

cyclamen

Cyclamens come in pink, red, and white, and some have attractive leaves with silver marbling. Water when the soil feels dry, but avoid splashing the crowns. Cyclamens need bright, indirect light and cool temperatures. Avoid putting them near drafts. Provide high humidity by keeping them on a tray filled with pebbles and a little water; again, don’t let the plants touch the water. After the flowers fade, the plant will go dormant. Stop watering then, and resume when new leaves appear in fall. Apply a low-nitrogen fertilizer every other week while your cyclamen is actively growing.

 Christmas Cactus

These colorful holiday plants are actually succulents. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy, while they’re in bloom. If the stems start to look flabby, you’re probably over-watering. Christmas cacti like warm temperatures, bright light (but not direct sun), and well-drained soil. When the blooms are finished, keep the plants in a cool room, around 50 degrees F, and reduce watering to a minimum. When new buds appear, resume watering and fertilizing, and move the plants back into a warm spot. If the buds drop, your cactus may have been exposed to a draft or sudden temperature change, or you may have let it get too dry.

Amaryllis

What could be easier than opening a box with a pre-planted bulb, adding water, and waiting for flowers to appear? You can buy an amaryllis that’s boxed and ready to bloom, or start your own from a bulb. Give the plants a sunny window, and keep them evenly moist once growth starts. The flowers will last longer if the plant is kept in a cool room.

Tips For Growing poinsettias Outdoors:

Poinsettias, which can tolerate only a very light frost, can be grown as perennials in USDA hardiness zones 10 to 12. These sub-tropicals can reach 10′ high, so consider whether they’ll shade other plants when you transplant them. Pinch the growing tips to keep the plants bushy. Poinsettias like a sunny spot and a general purpose fertilizer. Getting your poinsettia to re-bloom is tricky, especially outdoors. As noted above, it needs about 14 hours of complete darkness every day, starting around the first of October, to bloom by Christmas. That means you’ll have to shield it even from streetlights and security lights—but it can be done, if you’re determined.

Christmas cactus image: Shutterstock/Tatiana Makotra

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