With the approaching of the holidays many people will be bringing home brightly colored plants to add to the festive atmosphere. Taking proper care of the plants will help to keep them looking good throughout the holiday season and with proper care your plants can last for several weeks or even a few months.
A plant that has been a traditional holiday favorite for years is the Poinsettia. They are now available in various leaf and flower colors. Make sure you start out right by buying a healthy plant. Select a poinsettia that has dark green foliage. If you choose a plant that has lots of color it will not develop much additional color after it leaves the store. The yellow flowers in the center of the colored bracts should be small and bright. Make sure to look carefully for any signs of insects and avoid any plants that have spotting on the leaves. Once you bring the plant home they need strong sunlight to develop their deep color. Blooming plants will maintain their color if in strong, indirect light.
Keep the plant evenly moist, but there should not be standing water in the plant’s saucer. This might require watering two to three times a week. Water the plant thoroughly and after 15 minutes empty any water that is standing in the saucer. Poinsettias prefer temperatures in the range of 60 to 70 degrees once their color has developed, but they do not like drafty areas. Once the flowers start blooming give them a liquid fertilizer once very two weeks.
One thing to know is that poinsettias are not poisonous. This is a folk tale that has been around for over 70 years. The plants are not meant to be eaten, but studies show they are not poisonous to humans or animals. Another mistaken belief is that the red leaves of the plant are the flowers. These are actually brightly colored leaves and the rather insignificant yellow buds in the center of the plant are the actual flowers.
Another plant that can add some color for the holiday is an Amaryllis. This plant is typically bought as a bulb. The bulb should be planted in a pot that is just slightly bigger than the bulb, just make sure that the pot has good drainage. Use a good potting soil, but only cover about 1/3 of the bulb. Once planted make sure you water thoroughly. Once the plant starts to actually grow place it in a sunny window. Water whenever the soil is dry to the touch. After the plant has bloomed, cut back the flower stalk, but not the leaves. You can then continue to grow the plant as you would any other house plant.
Paperwhite Narcissus is also a holiday plant that starts out as a bulb. Narcissus bulbs should be planted in a pot with good drainage. The bulbs should be placed close together with their pointed end up. Leave the top half of the bulbs uncovered. Once planted, water the bulbs thoroughly. Place the pot in a well lit, but cool room. Once the shoots are about an inch tall the plant can be moved to a warmer room.
For a different twist on a holiday plant try a Christmas cactus. These plants are easy to care for and can have flower colors that are shades of pink, yellow, salmon or white. The cactus can adapt to low levels of light, however, it will bloom more in higher light levels. Christmas cactus is not a true cactus and is not quite as drought tolerate as other cactus plants. The plant should be watered thoroughly when the top half of the soil is dry. Feed the plant every two to three weeks. Plants that are exposed to drafts, overwatering or are too close to a heat source may drop their buds.
And a note about the most traditional of holiday plants, the Christmas tree. When bringing home a freshly field cut tree it should have a new cut about one inch from the old base. Having a fresh cut will remove any clogged wood that may not readily absorb water. Depending on the size of the tree, it may absorb up to a gallon of water the first day you have its in the tree stand. Always make sure there is plenty of water in the tree stand. To keep the needles fresh longer you may want to consider spraying the tree with Wilt-Pruf or another type of antiranspirant. These are clear films which slow water loss from the needles. Insects can hitch a ride on your tree. To prevent bugs from coming into your home, shake the tree and bounce it on the pavement a few times before bringing it indoors. If you see signs of insects, spray the tree with a insecticide containing pyrethrins before bringing it indoors.
Plants add color, texture, and smells to your holiday festivities. Spending time to get to know what your plants need will add to your enjoyment throughout the holiday season.
Donna Evans is co-owner of Gizmo Creations LLC, a landscape design and website design firm. Gizmo Creations has designed landscapes throughout the midwest and on the west coast. Anyone with questions on plants or landscaping should check out the landscape design forum at http://www.gizmocreations.com/forum