Debbie Clark

The holidays are quickly approaching and soon the holiday plants will arrive into the stores. Here is a guide on how to care for them.

Poinsettia – While in bloom, poinsettias like a semi-cool, humid location with bright indirect lighting. Make sure your plant is not sitting in water which can cause root rot. Never fertilize a poinsettia while in bloom. If you plan to keep your plant for the following Christmas here is what to do. In the spring, return the plant to a sunny area inside or outside in the garden. Cut the plant down to about 6 inches tall and repot. As the plant grows, pinch out tips once a month till August to encourage branching. From September to November your plant will need 12 hours of darkness to bloom. Cover the plant at night with a box for 12 hours then uncover during the day for 12 hours. Provide water, humidity, light and day temperatures of 65-70 degrees F. and night temperatures of 55-60 degrees F. to bloom your plant.

Amaryllis – If you purchased an Amaryllis bulb, plant it per the instructions on the box. After the bulb has bloomed, remove the dead flower stalk and flowers. Cut the flower stalk to one inch from the bulb. Continue to grow the plant during the spring and summer and fertilize it regularly. You will find that your plant will be making additional leaves at this time and putting energy back into the bulb. I put my potted amaryllis outside on the porch in indirect light for the summer. In late August, start cutting back on water. The leaves will slowly turn yellow and die. The bulb is just fine. Stop all watering now and remove dead leaves or remove it from the ground if you planted it outside. Store the dormant bulb in a cool dark place for 8 weeks allowing the bulb to rest. Replant the bulb in fresh potting soil 5 to 6 weeks from the time you would like it to bloom and start watering again.

Christmas cactus – Grow your Christmas cactus in bright indirect light to avoid burning its leaves. It will be happy outside during the summer. The plant needs to be watered frequently during its active growing times of spring and summer. Keep the soil slightly moist but allow it to dry out before watering again. The plant should never be sitting in water which will lead to stem or root rot. Apply an indoor plant fertilizer per instructions. Christmas cactus require high humidity levels (use a tray with pebbles to sit the pot in) and temperatures between 60-80 degrees F. during the growing season. Six to eight weeks before you want the plant to bloom, cut back on water, light and temperature to place the plant in a state of dormancy. The plant need 12 to 14 hours of darkness with temperatures around 50-55 degrees F. to make flower buds. Repot in the spring using cactus mix.

Poinsettias come in many colors from white, red, pink, (Traditional colors) to peach, purple and blue created by growers. Always keep your plant away from drafts from windows and home heating which can cause leaves to drop.

Poinsettia colored petals are really bracts. The actual flower is the yellow center that is surrounded by the colored bracts.

Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving or Easter cactus come in many bloom colors. The way to tell the difference is the leaves. If they are pointed it is a Thanksgiving cactus but due to blooming conditions it could bloom at Christmas. True Christmas cactus have rounded leaves. The one in the picture is a Thanksgiving cactus blooming at Christmas.

Amaryllis bulbs can be saved from year to year and re-bloomed in your garden or containers. They always add great color in the home during those cold winter days.

Debbie Clark is a NC Master Gardener, Garden Writer and Speaker. She is a Judge for the International Rose Trials at Biltmore Estate, a member of GWA – The Association for Garden Communicators and a member of the American Rose Society.

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