Holiday Plant Care

Mary Ann Ryan
Adams County Master Gardener

After Christmas, many people are unsure as to what to do with their plants they received. Commonly given at Christmas is the amaryllis. Amaryllis come in many colors. Shades of red, pink, coral, white and bicolor are some of the colors available. There are dwarf varieties as well as the typical large flowering varieties.

If you have received the bulb over the holidays, or wish to try one, follow these simple instructions. First, you'll need a pot large enough to support the size of the bulb. The bulbs are very large, so a 5 or 6 in. pot is probably best. Also when selecting a container, use a heavy pot, like clay or ceramic. As the flower spike grows, the plant can become very top heavy and fall over.

When planting the bulb in the container, leave of the bulb out of the pot, and bury the rest in the soil. The soil should be a good quality potting soil, with peat as its base. Water the bulb well and place it at a sunny window. If the plant isn't in the sun, the flower spike will grow much taller than necessary.

The flower spike will grow first, producing a large beautiful flower. After the flower is finished blooming, clip the spike. Depending on the size of the bulb, it could possibly produce another flower spike or two. When all the spikes are finished blooming, large leaves will grow. These leaves are often referred to as "straps". Allow these straps to grow and develop. Treat your amaryllis as you would any other houseplant. Water when it is dry, and continue growing it in a sunny window.

When spring approaches and the nighttime temps are above 55 degrees F, plant your bulb outside. It can be maintained in a container, or you could plant in a flower or vegetable garden. It will continue to grow its leaves throughout the summer. Keep the bulb well watered and fertilize heavily. When fertilizing, use a fertilizer with a ratio of 10-10-10 or 5-10-5. Feed every other week, and mix according to the label. The summer months are when the bulb receives its strength to produce its next set of flowers, so proper care and feeding is very important through this growing time.

When fall approaches and cool temperatures arrive, it is almost time to bring the bulb back inside. After a hard frost, dig up the bulb, knock all the soil from the roots, and store it in a cool, dry location. The bulb requires a dormant time, which is the reason for the storage time. Keep a close eye on the bulb, because when the flower spike begins to appear, it's time to pot it again. You could pot the bulb after about 2 months of dormancy whether the spike is beginning to appear or not. Then the process begins all over again and you can enjoy the flower another season!

Some problems that you may fumble into: If just the straps are produced and no flower spike the following year, this is an indication of not enough fertilizer through the summer months. Few pests bother the amaryllis. If an insect, like aphids, bothers the plant, use an insecticidal soap. Be sure to read the label before applying. This is an easy plant to grow and with patience and proper care, you can enjoy the amaryllis flowers year after year!

The Norfolk Island Pine is another common houseplant given over the holidays. This plant also requires lots of sunlight. Water the plant when the soil is dry to the touch. Feed it regularly, about once a month, with a well-balanced fertilizer. This plant does well in a cooler room as well as a warm room. However, dry air isn't a good idea. It prefers humidity. Keep the plant away from fireplaces or heaters.

A common insect problem with the Norfolk is mealy bugs. They will hide in the scales of the leaves or needles. If you see these insects, insecticidal soap or a horticultural oil spray will take care of them. Often times more than one application will be necessary for good control. Once again, be sure to read the label before applying any insecticide.

Enjoy your holiday gifts. Take good care of them and they will reward you year after year with beautiful flowers and a healthy environment!

Read other winter related gardening articles

Read other articles by Mary Ann Ryan