rinda's blog
Care for Holiday Plants

Poinsettia: You know that what we think of as the flowers of the poinsettia are really bracts, or specialized leaves; the flowers are the small yellow ones in the center. Poinsettias were brought to the US from Mexico in the middle of the nineteenth century by one Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

You can oversummer a poinsettia, but frankly, I don't think it's worth the trouble. They're so inexpensive and buying them is a holiday tradition. Interestingly, their bloom is triggered by shorter days, so if you do oversummer them, you have to put them in a dark place from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. from about September on to encourage them to bloom.

It's also better to give the plants one or two serious dousings a week, rather than daily dribbles. The idea is to get the water deep into the soil so the plants have to send their roots down and out in order to find water. This lets the roots stabilize the plant and gives the plant more access to nutrients.

Do keep your poinsettias away from cold window panes and out of direct sunlight. Keep the temperatures between 50-80 degrees. I like to put poinsettias in good light but not in a window. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch, and water enough that the water flows out the hole. (Make sure you cut a hole in the foil wrapper so the plant doesn't sit in water.) Poinsettias don't like what we call wet feet.

It can't hurt to leave the can in the soil so you can check how much rain the garden's received too.

Cyclamen: Cyclamens are my very favorite holiday plants because they're so easy to keep looking great - or at least decent - all year long. They like a lot of sun and cool temperatures, so keep your plant by a window. It's also good to keep your plant humidified.

Water when the soil feels dry but before the flower stalks start to sag. Cyclamens will recover if they go dry for a short period (and they'll tell you they're thirsty by drooping their flowerheads), but I just feel so guilty if I let them languish. They like a thorough soaking, so water till the water flows out the hole in the bottom, and then wait till the surface of the soil is dry again for their next drink. Don't water in the center of the plant, since this may lead to tuber rot.

When the flowers are spent, tug or nip them off. When the leaves go yellow, say in March or April, let up on the watering and be patient.

I put my cyclamens outside in the summer and treat them like the rest of my container plants. I water them every day and feed them once a week with half strength bloom booster. I bring them in again in October and they're just as happy as can be. My two year old cyclamen has more blooms now than ever before.

Amaryllis: If you have a flowering amaryllis, keep it away from direct sunlight. They like indirect light, so maybe on a coffee table or even dining table is good. Water when the soil is dry down an inch - no more often than every 3 days. They also prefer cool temperatures.

After your Amaryllis flowers have faded, cut them from the stem; when the stem starts to sag, cut it back to the top of the bulb. Keep on watering and feeding your plant all summer Keep the pot inside till late spring, and then tuck it away in a corner of the garden out of sight. It does need full sun to photosynthesize enough food to store in the bulb for a glorious bloom next year.

When the leaves start to yellow, usually in early fall, cut them back to about 1-2" above the top of the bulb and take the bulb out of the soil. Brush it off to clean it, and put it in a cool, dark place for at least 6 weeks. The garage is a good place. Some experts say just put the whole caboodle, plant and pot, in the garage. You can just leave the pots unwatered for 6 weeks, and then return them indoors to light and water. At that point it's a good idea to remove the top half to an inch of soil and replace it with fresh potting soil.

Christmas Cactus: Like the cyclamen, Christmas Cacti like bright light and lower temperatures. Don't put one in a hot air draft, near a radiator, or by a fireplace. They are tropical rainforest plants, so they also need high humidity. You can put a pan under the plant; add pebbles and water, and sit the pot on the pebbles. You don't want the roots in contact with the water, but sitting on water will help humidify the plant. By now, all the very sunny spots in your house or apartment are crammed with plants! and you're wearing layers to cope with the cool temps they want. Oh, the hardships we endure for beauty.

Water the cactus as you do the cyclamen That is, feel the soil every day, and when it feels dry, water thoroughly. It may need more water than you imagine; although it is a succulent, it's not a desert cactus.

If you want to oversummer it, prune off a few branches in April or May to encourage it to grow more bushy. You can then root them in moist vermiculite, if you want, and get some new plants. Take the cacti outside for the summer and put them in filtered light or semi-shade (morning sun; afternoon shade). Bring them back inside in fall, and give them the dark treatment. This means 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness every day. You have to get into the routine of putting your cactus in the closet every evening and getting it out in the morning. Alternatively, you can put it in the basement, or some other area of the house where the temperature is 50-55 degrees. If you do this, the light or darkness doesn't matter so much. Maybe the garage?

When do you start this? The answer is about 8 weeks before you want the plant to bloom. So say you want Christmas blooms, you'd start in mid October. By then, in most northern areas anyway, you should be able to get away with garage treatment. Keep watering sparingly until buds appear and then increase the water, but be careful not to overwater (no wet feet). Bring the plant inside when the buds are developing well.

A very happy new year to all. May 2010 be the start of a healthy, fun, prosperous, and green new decade.
Pink Libretto Cyclamen