Inexpensive Holiday Plants

Lee Royer
Frederick County Master Gardener

Very few of the holiday plants at today's superstores cost more than $15, and most are much less. As for quality, many large retailers are purchasing plants locally if possible.  Local plants are often of higher quality due to the shorter stressful shipping time.  An extra bonus is that buying them supports our local economy.

General care

These plants are marketed and sold this time of year primarily because most thrive on the cooler temperatures and drier humidity of late fall and winter. If your mother's house is very hot and humid, you should look somewhere else for a flowering houseplant that would enjoy those conditions, but that might not be on the cheap side.

All of these plants are fairly easy to merely keep alive, however if your goal is to recreate the beauty, bloom, or color again next year you will have varying degrees of challenge. Suffice it to say that most are enjoyed like Christmas trees, for one season and then composed. The following paragraphs contain specific information on each variety to help with your decision.

Christmas Cactus

Normal room temperatures and bright, indirect sunlight suit this plant. This helps them stay alive (blooming is another matter) for many years, sometimes so long that they are passed from one generation to the next. For easy long-term care and repeat bloom, this plant is your best bet. Keep them evenly moist until they finish blooming, then let them dry out slightly between waterings.

You may set these cacti out-side in the shade after all danger of frost has passed and bring them back inside before frost in the fall. Spring is the time to repot with fresh soil, using an African Violet mixture but these cactus enjoy being pot bound, so don't go up more than 1 inch in diameter every other year or so. Just supplying fresh soil each year will give it a nice boost.

Eight weeks before you want the cacti to bloom, place them in a cool room (55 to 60 degrees) that is very dark after sunset or put them in a closet over night so to completely restrict the

amount of light. A cool spare room that isn't used at night is ideal. When flower buds form, gradually begin keeping the soil evenly moist and fertilize gently once a week. Warmer temperatures will speed the bloom while cooler temperatures will slow it down. Knowing this will help you get the plant back into bloom at the time you choose.

The first year, don't be disappointed if it doesn't bloom at the exact time you'd like, just getting it to bloom again in the, fall is a

success. During the active growing and blooming period, pinch the tips to keep the plants pleasingly bushy then use the tips to propagate your cacti.

Cyclamen

Cyclamen are beautiful flowering tubers native to the Mediterranean region. Place them in or near a cool window in bright light, out of reach from any heat source, because they enjoy temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees. If suddenly placed in a very warm room, they are prone to drooping no amount of watering will correct. Over watering at this point will often kill the plant.

Enticing them into bloom a second year can be a challenge, but the foliage is pretty enough to live with if you want to try. While in bloom and growing, from autumn until late winter, keep them evenly moist, then gradually reduce watering and allow them to dry out between waterings. If a plant droops at this time due to lack of water, not excessive heat, plunge the pot into luke-warm water and it will revive quickly.

Continue keeping them on the dry side until late July or August when you can gradually begin to keep them moist again. This is also the time to repot them into a slightly bigger (no more than 1 inch larger) pot with fresh potting soil in anticipation of the growing and blooming season. Fertilize biweekly when flower buds begin to show. Cyclamen are propagated from seed that can be purchased mail order from many major seed catalogs.

Poinsettia

It's hard to imagine a holiday season without those cheery bright red, pink, cream, or white Poinsettias everywhere you look. Few would recognize the wild, 6 foot, rangy Mexican bush that it originates from. The blooms are not petals but bracts surrounding a small greenish flower.

Poinsettias can be kept in color for a couple months by keeping them in a cool room (between 55 and 70 degrees) and bright light, out of drafts. Allow them to dry slightly between waterings. If the soil is too dry or too wet for an extended period, the leaves will drop. Caring for them few weeks is easy. Recreating their original cheery color and shape is practically impossible for the average home owner.

Professional growers use growth-inhibiting hormones to keep Poinsettias pleasingly compact and stocky as well as maintaining perfect growing temperatures and humidity levels, not to mention the necessary 14 hours of uninterrupted total darkness nightly for two months before they bloom. Propagation is by cuttings.

Fernsettia

This potting arrangement is a cheery Poinsettia surrounded by lovely green ferns. It is a very attractive centerpiece or decoration for the season, but forget keeping it looking the same for very long, much less till next year. View it as a lovely flower arrangement. Enjoy it and water it for a few weeks and then allow it to enrich your compost pile. Sometimes that is exactly the gift you are looking for one that doesn't require a bit of worry or care beyond the season.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in the garden

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