Growing Holiday Flowers

Mary Ann Ryan
Adams County Master Gardener

As gardeners, we often receive plants or give plants for the holidays. Poinsettias, cyclamen, and Christmas cactus are among the most popular plants given. Here are some tips to growing your holiday plants and keeping them alive through the winter months.

Keep your poinsettia away from cold and drafty places. Hot spots, such as by a fireplace, near a heater, or above appliances are areas that you should avoid. Poinsettias like the sun, so lots of light is a must for the plant's health and survival. Near a window that is not drafty is the best location for your plant. Water your plant well when the soil is dry to the touch. Be sure not to over water the plants. If there is any water in the saucer 15 minutes after watering, be sure to empty the saucer as the excess water can cause rotting of the roots. It is best to discard the foil or plastic that is surrounding the pot. Proper drainage is necessary to the health and survival of the plant. If you want to keep the paper on for festive color, one to two weeks is the limit. Many garden centers offer a multitude of containers that you can sit you plant in that is a festive or an "every day" container.

Keep an eye out for insect infestation. Whiteflies, spider mites, mealy bugs and aphids are common insect problems. Scout the plant frequently, and if any are detected, spray with an insecticidal soap. More than one application is normally necessary to control these insects. Be sure to read the label on the bottle before applying.

After the holidays, poinsettias can be thrown away or maintained for next year's holiday season. They are not easy, but it is possible to keep the plant and get it to re-bloom. Here's some easy steps.

First, you'll want to cut the plant back hard in late March or early April. Water regularly and fertilize once every two weeks with a balanced fertilizer. When the weather begins to warm, about 55 degrees F nighttime temps, you can put the plant outside. Keep it in a container; don't plant it in the ground. To keep the plant bushy, prune it during the summer months. When September swings around, watch for the temperatures again. It will need to come inside when the nighttime temperatures begin to drop.

Around the first of October, the plant needs to be lit at particular intervals. During the day, when the sun would normally be out, the poinsettia needs sunlight. But at night, when the sun goes down, it needs uninterrupted darkness. An easy way to achieve this is by covering the plant with a box that will allow no light into it at sun down, and uncovering it at sun up. When the bracts begin to color, usually at the beginning of December, your plant is again ready for holiday display!

Another common holiday plant is the cyclamen.  This pretty flowering plant is not the easiest, but certainly is rewarding to see bloom all through the winter months. The most important thing to remember when trying to grow a cyclamen is to realize that it grows best in cool temperatures, and likes plenty of sunlight. A cool window in a cool room would be the best location for this plant. Temperatures that get above 68 degrees F are not beneficial for prolonging the life of a cyclamen. Watering the cyclamen can be tricky. Be careful not to over water; this will cause roots to rot. Water when the soil is dry to the touch. Be sure to discard the excess water that drains into the saucer about 15 min. after watering.

The cyclamen will bloom from October through April. When the temperatures become warmer, the plant stops producing flower buds. As the summer progresses, often times cyclamen will go almost into a state of dormancy. The plant will stop growing leaves, and often appear to be dying. Continue to keep the plant alive through the summer months, keeping it as cool as you can, and giving it plenty of sunlight inside and continue watering. When the fall months approach, and the nighttime temperatures begin to drop, you will see an improvement in your plant's behavior. Its leaves will perk up, and it will begin to produce flower buds again. Before you know it, the plant will be back to its old self again and ready to perform for you during the winter months!

Christmas Cactus is enjoyed by many over the holiday season. It also prefers a good sunny location. It requires a dryer soil. In order to get this plant to rebloom, it requires a cold period in the fall. The plant can be set outside during the summer months, and after a few cool nights in the fall, bring it back inside and put it in a sunny location. The cool snap is what it needs to trigger the flower buds to set. Before you know it, the Christmas cactus will be blooming for you again!

Enjoy your holiday plants. There's nothing quite like the life and color you can bring inside to enjoy!

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