Happy Holiday Plants

I love the holidays with all the glitter, glow, Christmas trees, fabulous food and music. Being a gardener, I also thoroughly enjoy seeing blooming holiday plants fill homes, churches, stores and offices with vivid colors. Poinsettias, cyclamens, azaleas, Christmas cacti and African violets, among others, bring the beauty of a summer’s day inside in the middle of winter to brighten up any space. With a little care and proper maintenance, these flowering treasures can delight well past the holiday season.

Holiday plants have a number of maintenance factors in common. They all need bright light. Poinsettias thrive with south-facing light. The rest do best with bright morning or filtered sun. I have found holiday plants do best when watered from below. Set the plant in its pot into a large saucer or lipped container with a couple of inches of water in it. Let the plant absorb the water for a couple of hours. Because plants don’t like wet feet for any long period or when it’s cold, water early in the day. Then, remove the plant from its watering container or dump out the excess water.

After the holidays, if you want to continue growing poinsettias, repot them to a container one inch larger than the one they came in. Use a good potting soil since these plants require well-drained soil. To keep a poinsettia doing well in its pot, put it in a sunny location out of drafts and sudden temperature changes. Keep it evenly moist. To maintain good color, fertilize half-strength with nitrogen every two weeks until the leaves start to drop. When the leaves drop, cut the stems back to two buds, stop fertilizing and reduce water. When the buds break into leaves, start the whole process over again. Poinsettias only bloom when they experience 14 hours of complete darkness each day for 10 weeks. To force them to bloom in time for the holidays, greenhouse growers roll black out cloths over them at night for at least ten weeks prior to sale. You can put yours into a dark closet for that length of time and then bring out into the light each morning.

Cyclamens are quite easy to manage if given bright light, water from below and a little bit of flowering plant food every month. Remove dead leaves and old flowers and they will keep reblooming for months.

Azaleas are a little tricky to keep going in pots. They usually drop their leaves and rarely rebloom. I think it’s because they were grown in a humid greenhouse with optimal growing conditions. Then, we try to grow them in our dry houses. Try transplanting them and keeping the soil evenly moist. Set the container on a tray of pebbles with water in it, to provide extra moisture in the air. An azalea will not tolerate direct sun, preferring bright filtered light. Fertilize with a diluted azalea or acid food every few weeks.

Fill your home with holiday color, season after season.

The Holiday Cactus

The Thanksgiving, Christmas or Holiday cactus (Schlumbergera sps.) lives on trees or rocks in its native Brazil in areas of high humidity. As a houseplant, it thrives in a rich porous soil of sand peat moss and leaf mold. Unlike most cacti, these require regular water, partial shade or bright indirect light. They should be misted weekly from spring to late August. What looks like leaves are really flattened green stems, which can bear hundreds of white, pink, purplish-red or yellow flowers. One article describes them as “remarkably floriferous” (houseplantsguru.com).

To make this unusual cactus bloom for the holidays, it has to have cool night temperatures of 50 to 55 degrees F and 12 to 14 hours of complete darkness. Even a night light or street light can prevent them from blooming. This initiation of bloom being triggered by cool and long nights is called thermo-photoperiodic.

This cactus needs little repotting. It will thrive with an application of 20-20-20 fertilizer two to four times per year, stopping one month prior to bud set. You can prune the plant right after blooming or wait until spring. Take at least two segments from each branch or prune simply to shape the plant. It’s better to twist off the segments than to cut them.

Because these beauties can be quite long-lived, they are often handed down for generations.