Many people receive plants for Christmas, but are not sure how to care for them. Three varieties that are often given as presents are the ever-popular, but most frequently killed, Poinsettia, the “kinda boring after they flower” Amaryllis, and the “How do I get this thing to bloom again?” Christmas Cactus.
Each of these plants requires a rest period or special growing conditions to stimulate new flowers. They also require a little extra care over most other houseplants.
If you are like me, however, you are always ready for a challenge when it comes to making something grow where it shouldn’t.
The Poinsettia is most often associated with Christmas. Thousands are sold every year and, like so many goldfish, thousands end up in the trash can by the middle of January. Keeping a Poinsettia alive until next year may not be worth the effort, since a new one does not cost that much. Another reason is that they never look as good the second year as a new one that you can purchase the next year.
The red or white ‘flowers’ of a poinsettia are not really flowers, but colored leaves.
The red or white ‘flowers’ of a poinsettia are not really flowers, but colored leaves. The actual flowers are the small growths in the middle of the clusters (or bracts) of colored leaves. Some varieties of poinsettias will stay active all winter, where others will begin to fade quickly.
To keep your Poinsettia through next season, try these steps.
- Keep the plant in an area where it will receive bright light and temperatures between 60° and 75°.
- Keep it well watered, but not soggy. (Use the finger-poking method, described in Winter Indoor Plant Care Tips.)
- Fertilize it with a 10-10-10 fertilizer every two weeks during the winter months.
- As the bracts start to fade and fall, move the plant to a location where it receives indirect light and temperatures of 55° to 60°. Cut the plant back to around 5” from the soil level and repot it with fresh soil. Water infrequently during this time. Give the plant just enough water to keep the stems from shriveling.
- Watch for new growth and then move it back to a well-lighted location.
- In the late spring, after the danger of frost has passed, place the pot in a partially shaded area outside.
- For a fuller plant, pinch back the new growth to encourage branching.
- After Labor Day, stop pinching and bring the plant indoors. Place it back in a sunny location with evening temperatures of about 65°.
- Now comes the bothersome part. Poinsettias only ‘bloom’ during short days, so place the plant in total darkness for 12 hours each day. This can be accomplished by moving the plant to a dark closet or by placing a lightproof box over the poinsettia each day. Be sure to keep it in a sunny location during the day and water on a regular basis.
By following these directions, your poinsettia should be in ‘full bloom’ for next Christmas. As I said, I will keep you informed on the progress of my two poinsettias and hope you do the same for me.
Amaryllis plants have blooms of many colors.
Amaryllis is another Christmas favorite. To keep it around for years to come only requires you to keep it growing after it blooms. This is another plant that requires a lot of bright sun to do well. Amaryllis success depends on these steps:
- Water on a regular basis, even after the flowers fade.
- Once it warms up and frost is no longer a danger, move it outdoors to a semi-shaded location.
- In the fall, bring the pot back indoors and allow the leaves to die by withholding water. Then store the pot in a cool, dark spot to ‘rest’.
- Around the beginning of November, bring the plant back into a sunny location. Water on a regular basis and new growth will begin shortly.
Amaryllis plants have blooms of many colors. It is a relatively easy plant to care for, so brighten your interiorscape with several different varieties.
As with the Poinsettia and Amaryllis, the Christmas Cactus requires a ‘rest’ period.
The Christmas Cactus has become very popular and the blooms have a variety of colors.
Controlling temperature and the amount of sunlight is critical to the development of new blooms. The most active growth period is from April until September, but they do not like a lot of bright sunlight during this time. Too much direct sun during the summer months can cause the leaves to yellow, or fall off. A bright location without direct sun is best during the summer. Water and fertilize it on a regular basis during this period.
As with the Poinsettia and Amaryllis, the Christmas Cactus requires a ‘rest’ period. From mid-September until mid-November, water infrequently and keep it out of direct sunlight. Then, start to increase the watering and move the plant to a sunny location.
Christmas Cactus requires less water during the winter, but they do enjoy the bright winter sun. They also flower better when slightly pot-bound. If it does need repotting, do so during the winter months, but after it flowers.
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