Caring for Holiday Plants

Kay Hinkle
Master Gardener

(11/20) Happy Thanksgiving! Within a few weeks we will be greeting each other with a "Merry Christmas"! The days fly by when the growing season is over and as the holidays approach, it seems like a good idea to review best practices so that indoor holiday plants flourish. This article will cover a few popular holiday favorites as well as the care of your live Christmas tree - balled and burlapped, or cut. Just tuck away these tips until the plants arrive. Changing conditions can shock your plants; being prepared with some basic how-toís can help them not only survive the transition, but flourish in your home.

First, letís briefly cover the care of a Christmas Cactus over the holidays. Upon delivery or purchase, simply water the plant thoroughly and then allow the top inch of soil to dry before watering again. For those cacti already in your home from a previous holiday, water less frequently to get them to bloom. For detailed information on the Christmas Cactus, please refer to Connie Hollandís recent article published in local newspapers in early November and saved to the Emmitsburg website as well.

Most amaryllis are in bud or blooming when purchased over the holidays. Once the flowers have faded, cut the flower stalk to within 1" of the top of the bulb. Continue to water and feed the plant regularly with a liquid houseplant fertilizer. Amaryllis will grow a number of leaves during the spring and summer. This will help the plant produce energy for the following year's bloom. About 12 weeks prior to the anticipated rebloom, move the plant to a cool, dark place and force it into dormancy. Water very little and expect the leaves to grow brown and die. Once the plant appears to be dead, bring it out into the sunlight and water the plant. New green leaves will appear, then a stem or two which will bring forth a bloom. Once buds appear, rotate the plant regularly so that the stems grow upright instead of toward one source of light.

The poinsettia may be the most popular of all holiday plants. Give your plant bright, indirect light and water when the soil starts to feel dry. Poinsettias prefer a cool spot with no drafts. As with most houseplants, avoid overwatering, and drain the saucer so its roots won't rot. I know someone who tends to overwater; she uses a few ice cubes (placed on the soil away from the stems) every other day to keep her poinsettias fresh. Use a balanced fertilizer every couple of weeks to feed the poinsettia as long as it's actively growing. Move it outside in the summer.

Christmas Trees

The best strategy for keeping your living Christmas tree alive and well is to keep it cool and well-watered and to limit the amount of time it spends indoors. Here's how to help ensure your Christmas tree will be around next year: Select a tree that's right for your climate, soil and light conditions. If you plan on keeping it in a pot outdoors for more than a season, be sure to select a variety that's hardy to two zones colder than your climate.

Buy early. Most nurseries will tag and hold trees until you're ready to bring them home.

Put the tree in a transition zone. Two weeks before Christmas, put the tree in a garage for about a week to allow for acclimation to an indoor environment. Keep it watered, but don't overdo it. A few days before Christmas, move the tree to a spot with filtered light, but well away from drafts and heater vents; a cool location is best. Be sure it gets all the water it needs. . Christmas lights don't pose a serious threat to plants but they can cause some minor damage. Large bulbs can create enough heat to burn needle surfaces, so use only light strands that come with tiny bulbs.

A few days after Christmas, put the tree back in the garage. No matter what, don't leave the tree inside the house for more than a week to 10 days. If the ground freezes in your area, consider digging the planting hole in the fall and covering it with leaves. Otherwise, just dig your hole, add amendments to the soil if necessary, plant the root ball in the soil, and water it well. Pictured here are two trees that have transitioned successfully from their wild outdoor habitat to a temporary residence in our great room, then finally braving the great outdoors once again. One is a blue spruce and the other a Norway spruce Ė a little extra work but a lot of fun.

Finally, for those who decorate with a live, cut evergreen, simply water it well continuously. Keep an eye on the water level in the container, as a cut tree can be very thirsty, especially early in the season. Many trees will stay very fresh-looking for weeks if watered well.

We have just scratched the surface of this topic, but hopefully you will find these basics helpful as the holidays approach. And before we know it, we will turn the calendar to the new year, and the planting season (outdoors) will quickly be upon us. Until that time, favorite holiday plants (indoors) can fill our home with sights and smells that warm our hearts through the cold winter and into warmth of spring. Happy Holiday gardening!

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