Tips to keep Christmas plants pretty

Cyclamen. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Cyclamen. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Paperwhites. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Paperwhites. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

What’s your favorite Christmas plant? If you’re like me, it’s just about impossible to choose. This year, I have four of the five that are traditional around our area. Which is missing?

Poinsettias. They just don’t seem to like my house (or maybe it’s me they don’t get along with) and I got tired of feeling bad every time another another forlorn, withered leaf fluttered to the floor.

Whether you have one or all five, you want to keep them looking their best as long as possible. Try these tips:

  • Christmas cactus: To prevent bud drop, avoid overwatering and exposure to temperature fluctuations. Low light levels can also lead to buds falling off the plant before blooming.  Keep them in a cool room to prolong the flowers. After blooming, cut back on watering, but don’t let the soil get so dry the leaves wilt. After danger of frost, Christmas cactuses can be placed outside in a semi-shady spot for the warm months. While they are in active growth, fertilize occasionally with a product labeled for blooming indoor plants. Leave them outside as nights cool in the fall because temperatures under 55 degrees stimulate them to set buds. Bring them in before the first frost and you should have blooms again in no time.
  • Paperwhite:  For best flowering, leave the bulb pot outside if temperatures will stay above freezing.  When grown in warm temperatures and with low light, foliage and flowers tend to flop. Once the flowers open, bring the pot inside, but move it to an unheated location at night to extend flower life. Once they’ve finished blooming, cut off the bloom stems and put the container in a sunny spot until you can plant them outside. In our climate, they’ll grow and rebloom , although they may skip a year. They can’t be forced to bloom indoors again, though.
  • Amaryllis: Put the pot near a sunny window, and rotate it a quarter turn every few days once the flower stalk emerges to keep it growing straight. Too little light will result in a weak, spindly stalk. Keep soil evenly moist and stake the stalk if it shows signs of toppling. After the flowers fade, cut the bloom stalk about an inch above the bulb without damaging the foliage, put the pot in a sunny window and treat it like a houseplant until after the last chance of frost in the spring. Then plant it outdoors in well-drained soil where it will receive at least  to 6 hours of sun,  leaving the top third of the bulb’s “neck” exposed. The bulb will return to its natural bloom cycle and bloom the next spring.
  • Cyclamen: Keep the soil moist, but don’t water from above. Place the pot in a shallow tray of water and let the roots take it up. They prefer temperatures in the 60s and like bright light when grown indoors. Remove faded flowers and yellowing leaves. Because they will survive temperatures  down to about 20 degrees, you could plant them outside in a shady flower bed, but I prefer to keep mine in a container so I can bring it in when temperatures are going to fall so they don’t get burned. With proper care, cyclamen should continue to bloom until late spring.
  • Poinsettia:  Place the plant where is will get some sunlight and won’t be exposed to drafts. They like daytime temperatures ifrom 70 to about 75 and nighttime temps in the low- to mid-60s. Water with warm water when the soil surface is dry to the touch, but don’t let the plant stand in water. If you choose to keep the plant in a foil wrapper, poke holes in the bottom of it to allow water to drain. Avoid getting mist or water on the colored bracts. Because they like high humidity, you might consider placing the pots on a tray of pebbles and adding water to the pebbles. Sometime in January, you have a choice to make: baby it through a whole year and try to get it to bloom again or toss it on the compost heap and buy a fresh, beautiful plant next Christmas.

Bet you can guess what I do.

 

 

 

 

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