Whether you’ve purchased holiday plants for yourself or received them as gifts, here are some tips on how to keep them healthy and looking good throughout the season and beyond.
Perhaps one of the most ubiquitous plants of the season, Poinsettias are available in a range of colors beyond the classic red, including everything from creamy white to salmon pink, deep violet and multi-toned beauties. The colorful “flower petals” of the plant are actually modified leaves, called bracts. At the center of the bracts are small yellow flowers called cyathia. When purchasing poinsettias, choose ones that have these cyathia intact. If theses flowers have dropped off or the poinsettias are shedding pollen, the plant is past its prime and may not last through the season.
Be sure to cover your poinsettias when bringing them home from the garden center, especially if temps are below freezing outside. Get them home as soon as possible, and don’t leave them in the car as you’re running errands. Either remove the foil or pot cover or poke holes in it to make sure the plant isn’t sitting in water. Overwatering is the most common way to kill poinsettias. Water these plants sparingly, and make sure they drain thoroughly in the sink to prevent the soil from being oversaturated.
Poinsettias often get tossed after the holidays because caring for them to ensure they produce colorful bracts the following year can be challenging since they need periods of darkness to do so.
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension professor emeritus at the University of Vermont and author of Caring for Your Poinsettia Year-Round, developed this Poinsettia care calendar based on the holidays of the year.
- New Year’s Day – Fertilize if you see new growth. Keep plants by a sunny window and water as needed for prolonged bloom for several weeks.
- Valentine’s Day – Check plants for insects and treat if necessary. If your plant has become leggy, cut back to about five inches tall to promote more compact growth.
- St. Patrick’s Day – Prune off faded and dried parts of the plant. Remove leaves from the soil surface and add a bit more potting soil if the roots are visible.
- Memorial Day – Trim off two to three inches of branches to promote side branching. Transplant into a container if you plan on continuing to grow your poinsettia as a potted plant.
- Father’s Day – Move the plant outside for the summer and place in indirect light. You can also transplant it directly into your garden.
- Fourth of July – Trim the plant again and move it into full sun. Continue to water and increase the amount of fertilizer to accelerate growth.
- Labor Day – Move indoors to a spot that gets at least six hours of direct light daily, preferably more. As new growth begins, reduce the fertilizer to one-quarter the recommended strength.
- Fall Equinox – Around Sept. 21, give the plant 16 hours of uninterrupted darkness (put the plant in a closet, basement or under a box) and 8 hours of bright light every day. Note that during the dark period, the plant cannot receive even the slightest bit of light at any time. Maintain night temperatures in the low 60oF range. Continue to water and fertilize at the reduced rate. Rotate the plant daily to give all sides even light.
- Thanksgiving – Discontinue the short day/long night treatment. Put the plant in a sunny area that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight. Reduce water and fertilizer.
- Christmas – Enjoy your “new” poinsettia. Start the cycle all over again after the New Year.
These beautiful succulents can last for decades and can grow to be impressively large and stunning. They’ll do well by a bright window but avoid full sun since they can prefer slightly cooler temperatures. Be sure to water the plant when the soil feels dry (check every 7-10 days) and take care not to let the plant sit in water. If you see that the flower buds are dropping before they bloom, this could be due to overly dry soil or too-warm temperatures.
You won’t have to worry about re-potting Christmas Cactus for years – they prefer to be pot-bound. Monthly fertilizing during the growing season (April to October) will keep your plant robust. To ensure you get to enjoy flowers for the following year, bring your plant outdoors for about 3 weeks or so in late summer/early fall, making sure you bring it back indoors before temperatures dip into the mid-forties. This will help set the flowers to enjoy for next year.
These cool-season plants can bloom up to 8 weeks in the right conditions, tolerating temperatures in the 40’s. They prefer diffused light as opposed to bright light and do best when not in the line of warm drafts such as those from heating vents. Water Cyclamen from their base, setting the plant in a saucer of water for about 15-20 minutes, then removing it. Deadhead spent flowers and leaves by pulling off the entire stem near the foliage line. Ideal conditions for Cyclamen include temperatures between 60-70 degrees during the day, 40-50 degrees at night, and high humidity, which can be achieved by keeping the plants on a tray filled with water and pebbles. Make sure the pot isn’t constantly touching the water to avoid root rot.
Cyclamen is another plant that can be challenging to keep growing year-long and re-blooming, but it can be done. The plant goes dormant in the summer and should be allowed to dry out for about 2-3 months, with minimal watering. Keep Cyclamen in a cool dark spot during this time, watering at the base just enough so that the soil doesn’t dry out completely. Feed plants with a diluted liquid low-nitrogen fertilizer every couple of weeks while in full leaf and not at all during dormancy. When new growth begins to appear, move Cyclamen back to a spot with diffused light and away from heating vents and resume regular care.
If you have Paperwhite bulbs, plan on “forcing” them (growing them inside) at least 4-6 weeks prior to when you would like them to bloom.
Place the bulbs in a container(s) with 1”-2” of aquarium gravel or small stones on the bottom. Place bulbs on top of the stones, root side down, pointy side up. Add a few more stones around the bulb to keep it stable, making sure ½-3/4 of the bulb remains above the stones. Add water to just below the base of the bulb. The bulbs will rot if they sit in water.
If you have Paperwhites that are already blooming, keep them in a sunny but cool location since too much warmth can result in leggy growth. As soon as the flowers emerge, tie the stems to a decorative stake to prevent them from toppling over. Water regularly so that the soil stays evenly moist. Don’t cut the foliage back but do cut the flower stalks off at their bases once the blooms turn brown and die.
Paperwhites are typically treated as annuals in our area, because it takes a tremendous amount of energy for the bulb to re-bloom again once forced to grow inside. They will not bloom again in the same year, but with proper storage and care during the winter, may grow and flower again in two or three years. Unlike many bulbs, paperwhites need no chilling to force blooms, but they are only hardy in USDA zone 10, like California. One way to try to preserve them is about six weeks after they bloom, turn the pot on its side and store it somewhere where it will not freeze, such as a garage or basement. In the fall, turn the pot upright, place it in the sun, water the bulb thoroughly and continue watering, hoping for the best, until the paperwhite blooms again in the spring.
If you plan on saving the forced bulbs for next year, continue to water the plant regularly until the foliage naturally begins to turn yellow. At this point, gradually cut back on watering until the foliage withers and dies. Only keep good-sized, healthy bulbs since these will be most likely to flower. Lay the bulbs on a tray to dry for at least 24 hours, to help prevent fungal rot from developing in storage. Keep bulbs in paper bags or nets and store in a cool, dry place. You can replant these bulbs outdoors. Be sure to add some fertilizer for bulbs to help encourage blooms.
The dramatic blooms of Amaryllis come in a variety of colors, including snowy white, pink blush, several shades of red as well as bi-color options. Place blooming Amaryllis in bright light – they’ll tend to flop in low light. Turn the plant every few days to help the plant keep upright. Water enough to keep the soil moist, but not soggy.
While the lifespan of Amaryllis is about a month to six weeks, the bulbs can live several years if taken care of properly. Cut the old flowers from the stem after flowering, and when the stem starts to sag, cut it back to the top of the bulb. Don’t trim the leaves since they’re essential in restoring nutrients to the bulb. Continue to care for Amaryllis as any houseplant, keeping the soil moist, and fertilizing every two weeks. Keep the plant in the sunniest spot in your home to encourage bigger blooms later. You can also move the plant outside once the danger of frost has passed.
In late summer or early fall, and/or when the leaves of the plant start to naturally die back, the plants will need to go into dormancy in preparation for re-blooming. Place your Amaryllis in a cool, dark place like a closet or basement to encourage dormancy. Determine when you’d like your Amaryllis to bloom, then count backwards about 10-12 weeks to gauge when to stop watering the plant. Don’t water regularly again until new green growth appears at the top of the neck. If the soil dries out completely before then, limit water to once a week from the bottom of the pot.
After the dormant period, bring the plant back to a bright, sunny spot. Remove any dead foliage, and resume watering. You may want to add some fresh potting soil to help boost nutrients back into the plant. A bulb may grow leaves before flowers or may do the inverse and grow flowers before leaves.