Christmas Cactus - Getting Them to Bloom

Kay Hinkle
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aring for Holiday Plants

Just because your gardens have been "put to bed" for the winter doesnít mean that you need to stop gardening. Indoor plants, particularly those that are readily available over the holidays, allow your green thumb to keep gardening throughout the winter; indoor gardening can be almost as rewarding. Most of these holiday plants benefit from spending the growing season outdoors until the weather cools, then coming indoors just before the frost. And then the fun of indoor gardening begins Ö

Along with the balls, bulbs and bangles that adorn our homes over the holidays, fresh flowers, plants and greens can add a naturally festive flair. My favorite decorations are natural, from pine boughs to potted plants to red twig dogwood sticks and winterberry holly in vases. We are focusing on holiday plants here today, so letís address their care to make the most of their beauty and your holiday.

Poinsettias come in all colors today. They may be dyed, painted with glitter and adorned with bows. These plants are particularly sensitive to sudden changes in temperature, improper watering and low light intensities. Place a poinsettia near a sunny window and water lightly and consistently. It can be helpful to mist the leaves lightly. Temperatures above 75 degrees and below 55 degrees adversely impact this holiday plant. Forcing this plant to re-bloom is tricky business, but if interested, check it out on-line. I found a good source by googling Penn State Extension Poinsettias: To Rebloom or Compost?

The Thanksgiving Cactus, as is the Christmas Cactus, an excellent houseplant and a lovely symbol of the holiday season. Avoid the temptation to fuss over them for the best results. Regular readers of our weekly column can refer to Connie Hollandís recent article to learn more about the holiday cactus.

The Cyclamen is popular around Thanksgiving and Christmas because that is when it naturally tends to bloom. The Cyclamen adapts well as a houseplant, often blooming again for next year. The colors vary from red to pink to purple and the leaves are a striking combination of dark and grey green swirls. The key to keeping a cyclamen for another season is cool temperatures. If the night temp exceeds 50 degrees, the leaves turn yellow. Poor light has the same effect as warm temps. Large amounts of indirect light and cool temperatures are the key to a long life for your holiday cyclamen.

The Amaryllis is a large bulb that is very easy to grow. The bulb is widely available in December and makes a great gift. This bulb is a favorite of mine because of the striking beauty of its bloom and the ease of encouraging re-bloom for multiple years. Moving the plant in its original pot to the garden during the growing season is easy. No special attention is necessary. The strap-like leaves get strong and healthy in dappled shade. Before the frost, move the pot to a cool, dark place inside. The leaves die back, and about 8-weeks before you want to see a re-bloom, bring the plant back into the light and water periodically as the Amaryllis comes to life inside your home. When the blooming stem begins to protrude, rotate the pot periodically to encourage growing straight and strong and avoid a spindly stem.

And of course, the live Christmas Tree deserves some attention here. Potted live trees require special care when brought inside for the holiday. With proper attention, your live tree, balled and burlaped, can be planted outdoors after Christmas to enjoy its lasting beauty. To successfully transition from inside to outside, The National Christmas Tree Association recommends the following for its care:

  • First, the tree is going to very heavy! A six foot tall balled and burlaped tree can weigh 250 pounds.
  • The tree should be stored in an unheated, sheltered area such as a garage or porch, out of the wind and sun. Do not expose the tree to freezing temperatures at any time. Keep the root ball damp.
  • Live trees may be decorated but with care. If lights are used, they should not give off any heat.
  • Do not move the tree from a warm house into freezing temps, but to a sheltered area for the first few days.
  • Do not remove the burlap and strapping unless it is plastic. This keeps the root ball solid and secure. Tap the tree container of a potted tree and remove prior to planting. Do not attempt to remove soil from the root system. Mulch heavily over the top of root ball to prevent freezing. Water as needed; avoid over-watering.

A live cut tree to be decorated indoors in your home this year requires special care that includes the following advice from the December issue of Real Simple Magazine: "Place the tree on the car roof with the bottom facing forward to minimize needle loss. Get it in water within four to six hours of a fresh cut. If youíre not putting it up right away, set it in a bucket of water in a cool, dark place, like the garage." And of course, water well through the course of the holiday as it is decorated and displayed. A live, cut tree needs up to a gallon of fresh, clear water every day.

May you have a holiday filled with joy, and a new year that abounds with light and love, and gardens!

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