Poinsettia, Christmas Cactus (inset), Amaryllis

Caring for Your Holiday Plants

Now that we have entered the anticlimactic post-holiday season, we feel the need to decompress. As we move on, however, we must not neglect those poinsettias and Christmas cacti we felt compelled to buy during the holiday rush.  Colorful holiday plants can be our first defense against those oppressive winter blues. .  It is important to remember that choosing a suitable location is key to providing the plant with the right amount of light and to ensure that it is exposed to the appropriate temperature and humidity levels.

Poinsettias
As poinsettias are probably the most popular holiday plant, we will address them first. To simply allow them to last longer, remove any decorative foil that might be covering it and place the plant, pot and all, into a saucer, being sure to keep the soil evenly moist.

Amaryllis
That beautiful amaryllis may appear to be high maintenance, but in fact it is one of the easiest plants to cultivate. Once it has stopped blooming, cut the old flowers off the stem. Eventually the stem will begin to droop and it too will need to be pruned; it should be cut back to the top of the bulb. For the next five to six months, continue to water and fertilize (type 14-14-14). It is important to note that over-fertilization is an easy way to kill house bulbs, so you will need to use only half of the recommended amount. When the leaves begin to turn yellow in the fall, cut them back, leaving them to grow no more than two inches above the soil. Remove the bulb from the pot and allow it to dry. You will want to store it in a cool, dry place, for instance in the closet of a spare bedroom, for the next six weeks. In early September, replant the bulb in its original container, being sure to hydrate the soil about once a week until the plant develops leaves. After the leaves appear, the plant will need to be watered more frequently. In about eight weeks your amaryllis will once again bloom vibrantly.

Christmas Cacti
When it comes to Christmas cacti, we should discard all preconceived notions of arid climate lovers that require little watering. This plant is actually a tropical cactus and requires enough water to prevent the top half of the soil from becoming dry to the touch. Do not let this encourage you to water too overzealously though, and be sure to drain off any excess, standing water. To extend the life of the blooms, keep the plant in cooler temperatures. It should not be exposed to outdoor drafts or the heat of vents or fireplaces. The Christmas cactus is like the poinsettia in that darkness is necessary to set the flowering in motion. You should start this process at the beginning of October, making sure that the plant remains in darkness from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. You can simply place a box over the plant or keep it in an unused extra bedroom, as these rooms tend to be a part of the house that are kept cool and dark. The plant will begin to produce buds in six to eight weeks.

Cyclamen
The cyclamen sets itself apart from the previously mentioned plants in that it enjoys humidity. Nevertheless, you should not allow the plant to sit directly in the water and remember that it never needs misted. An easy way to expose the plant to the proper temperature and humidity levels is to place ice cubes directly on the soil or use a pebble tray, most commonly used for orchids. When watering, it helps to add a bloom booster fertilizer, mixed as directed by the package. The plant also requires plenty of bright light, but should be kept out of direct sunlight. For the cyclamen, the air should be cool, between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. As the plant grows and produces new flowers, remove the old leaves and faded flowers. Once the plant ceases to bloom, reduce watering and the application of fertilizer. The pot should be placed in a cool, dry spot, like the basement or under the bed. In July when you repot the cyclamen tuber in fresh soil, bury only the bottom half of the tuber. Place the pot in a cool, well-lit area and keep the soil moist.

Orchids
Finally, last to be mentioned here but first on the list of favorites for many people, is the orchid. If cared for properly, orchids have a long life span and with a little attention the flowers can last for months. Orchids need a great deal of light in home environments, but do not benefit from direct sunlight. They enjoy cooler temperatures, in the neighborhood of 60 degrees, which can be achieved by placing the plant closer to the window. A good rule of thumb for estimating the right temperature of your orchids is to take note of how the air feels to you; if you’re comfortable your orchids will be too. To achieve the right level of humidity, mist the plant daily and sit the pot on some gravel or marbles in a pebble tray. Make sure the tray has water in it, but not so much as to cover the bottom of the pot. Water should flow freely through the pot. One more item: do not repot a blooming orchid.

Barbara Arnold is green corps coordinator at Franklin Park Conservatory.