Blooming plants make great gifts, especially for a busy hostess or that hard-to-buy-for relative who just doesn’t need any more “stuff.” At Friday’s Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute holiday plant sale for staff, I purchased assorted poinsettias and a few Christmas cacti for friends and co-workers.
With some care, these holiday plants can continue to look great into the New Year. Here are some tips to care for some of the most common holiday plants.
The showy bracts that make poinsettias so attractive will retain their color for weeks, making poinsettias a good choice to brighten up the indoors well into January. High indoor temperatures will shorten a poinsettia’s life, so choose a location with daytime temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees and a nighttime temperature of about 55 degrees. Plants can be moved into a cooler room at night if needed.
Water poinsettias when the soil is just dry, and don’t allow excess water to sit in the foil covering the pot. Both excessive watering and under-watering can cause poinsettia leaves to drop prematurely.
These bulbs are grown for their large, lily-like flowers. Hybrids are available in red, white, pink, salmon, some with stripes or double petals.
The unusual cybister hybrids have narrow, pointed petals with a more tropical look. Amaryllis bulbs usually come ready-to-plant in boxed “kits.” If you purchase this kind of kit, be sure the container has drain holes in it; if not, add a few holes before planting the bulb.
If you’ve purchased just the bulb, plant it in a container two inches larger than the diameter of the bulb. The bulb should be placed so that the top two-thirds sits above the soil line. Keep the soil barely moist, and place the pot in a cool room until leaves or a flower bud appears. Once this happens, move the plant to a warmer room, and water it regularly.
After the flowers have faded, remove the flower stalk and feed with a diluted fertilizer through the summer. Gradually begin to withhold water to encourage the bulb to become dormant. After the leaves die back, store the bulb dry, in its pot, at about 55 degrees for eight weeks. Begin watering lightly until the plant is actively growing.
Amaryllis bulbs are often difficult to bring into flower the second year, but may bloom in subsequent years once roots have become re-established.
These nonhardy daffodils are forced for their showy flowers. To keep paperwhites from flopping, force them in a very bright location in cool temperatures. With less light, the stems will continue to stretch in the search for light.
Paperwhites can be forced in pebbles and water, or in soil. Bulbs grown in soil tend to be more compact and less likely to topple over. Many people find the fragrance of paperwhites to be disagreeable (something like a naughty cat), so site them accordingly.
Cyclamen produce bright pink, white or red flowers held upright over dark green, heart-shaped leaves. This is the ideal plant for the energy-conscious gardener: cyclamen thrive in cool environments, ideally between 50 and 65 degrees.
Cyclamen flowers are long-lasting, with individual flowers sometimes lasting for three or four weeks, provided temperatures are low. Warm temperatures and dry air will reduce the health and shorten the life of cyclamens. These plants perform best when kept moderately moist, and don’t recover well if allowed to dry out.
Commonly called Christmas cacti, these plants are easy to grow and the easiest of all holiday plants to bring into bloom again next year.
Christmas cactus prefers bright light and moist soil when in bloom, with temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees. After flowering, allow the soil to dry out between waterings. This plant benefits from monthly fertilization from spring through summer. In autumn, bring plants into a cool room (50 – 65 degrees) that receives only natural light to encourage flower production.
In general, all of these blooming plants need at least six hours of bright light each day. Keep them out of both warm and cold drafts, and don’t allow the soil to dry out completely. Pull plants back from windows so the leaves don’t touch window panes. With some care and attention, these holiday plants can thrive for weeks to come.
The ATI student sale is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. today. Besides poinsettias and Christmas cactus, students will be selling B&B evergreen trees, greenery bundles and fresh wreaths, swags and centerpieces. The sale is in Halterman Hall and the adjacent greenhouse on the ATI campus: 1328 Dover Road, Wooster.
Denise Ellsworth directs the honeybee and native pollinator education program for the Ohio State University. If you have questions about caring for your garden, contact her at 330-263-3700 or click on the Ask Denise link on her blog at www.osugarden.com.