All About Gardening and Gardening Q & A
by Pernell Gerver

Bookmark this page or add it to your favorites now!
(Reload or refresh each time you visit to get the current week's columns.)

 Tell a friend about Pernell Gerver's Official Web Site 

"Growing and Enjoying Holiday Plants"

Holiday plantsMany potted plants are associated with the holiday season either given as gifts, used as seasonal decoration, or simply to provide colorful bloom indoors during winter. With proper care, many holiday plants will remain attractive through the holidays and beyond. Some can become permanent house plants that can give repeat performances each holiday season.

Beautiful plants abound during the holiday season. Some such as poinsettia, Christmas cactus, Norfolk Island pine, amaryllis, paperwhite, cyclamen, and kalanchoe are familiar, traditional holiday plants.

Poinsettia in foilOftentimes, holiday plants have their pots wrapped in a decorative foil or plastic. When watering it's important to remove the pot from the wrapper to allow excess water to drain from the soil. Water that sits inside the wrapper will cause the roots to rot. One way to keep the decorative wrapper on the pot but allow water to drain freely is to poke holes in the bottom of the wrapper that line up with the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. That way when the plant is watered it won't sit in water.

Another important consideration with holiday plants is outdoor temperatures whenever the plants are transported either from the store or when brought to someone else as a gift. The cold can kill plants so it's important to wrap them up and totally enclose them inside a paper sleeve that is folded over and stapled at the top or placed in a sealed plastic bag. On cold days don't let the plants sit inside the vehicle when the heat is off.

The key to success in keeping a holiday plant looking good is to know the plant and the growing conditions it likes and matching those to the environment inside the home. Cultural conditions such as light, temperature, watering, humidity, and fertilizing are the key factors relating to the health of any indoor plant. Choosing the right location to grow the plant in the home can make all the difference in the world.

poinsettiaPoinsettia is the most popular Christmas potted plant. There are many different colors in addition to red and different styles from which to choose, but all are cared for the same way. Poinsettia does best in a bright, sunny window. Place the plant where it will receive four to six hours of direct sunlight. Average room temperature around 70 degrees during the day and around 60 degrees at night is ideal. Water the plant when the surface of the soil is dry to the touch. In winter, heating systems dry out the air, but a simple way to add humidity is to set the pot on top of a saucer of pebbles that are kept moist. Poinsettias are sensitive to drafts, so place them away from doors or drafty windows. Fertilization is not necessary until spring. Poinsettias can be saved from year to year and be made to rebloom in time for the holidays by providing a dark treatment in fall.

christmas cactusChristmas cactus is a familiar holiday plant with its brightly-colored, tubular flowers at the tips of its segmented stems. It is easy to grow. Christmas cactus does best in bright, indirect light. Ideal temperatures are around 70 degrees during the day and 60 degrees during nighttime. Water Christmas cactus when the top half of the soil is dry. Fertilize when the plant is actively growing, from spring through summer. Christmas cactus will drop its flower buds if it is moved at the stage when the buds are small and beginning to show color. Wait until the flowers are opened before moving it to another location. Christmas cactus, as well as poinsettia, is also a short-day plant, meaning it blooms when nights are long. It can also be given a dark treatment in fall, however Christmas cactus will flower if night temperatures are low, regardless of daylength. Giving the plant night temperatures of 50 degrees from early November until the plant sets buds is all that's needed.

Norfolk Island PineNorfolk Island pine is an indoor plant that comes in many sizes from table-top to big floor plants. It's often decorated with miniature ornaments as a living Christmas tree. Norfolk Island pine will tolerate low light and average-to-cool room temperatures. Let the soil dry out slightly between waterings. Lower branch loss can be a problem in dry homes. Remedy this by setting the pot on a saucer filled with pebbles that are kept moist. Fertilize Norfolk Island pine once every two months during spring and summer.

AmaryllisOne of the most elegant, stately plants of the holiday season and beyond is amaryllis. This winter-blooming, indoor bulb has enormous, trumpet-shaped flowers in striking colors and shapes. The bulb from which the flowers emerge is itself very large, often the size of a grapefruit. Blooming in early winter and continuing into early spring, amaryllis produces a tall, hollow, often leafless, flower stalk topped with four to five flowers arranged in a circular pattern. Each lily-shaped flower is large, up to 10 inches across. The flower stalk is tall, usually 18 to 24 inches tall. It is not uncommon for one amaryllis bulb to produce two flower stalks, each with four to five flowers. This profusion of colorful bloom from one bulb is a welcome sight during the drab, gray winter months when little else is blooming. Once the bulb has finished flowering, its long, thin, sword-like foliage remains well into summer. In late summer its foliage withers and the bulb goes dormant. Stop watering the pot at this time, then resume watering eight to 10 weeks before Christmas so it will be in bloom again at the proper time.

PaperwhitesPaperwhites are a kind of tender narcissus that can be forced into bloom quite easily and quickly without a cold treatment. It's a fun project for children and adults to plant the bulbs and watch them grow and bloom. Paperwhites are extremely fragrant and will fill a room with their scent. There are three types of paperwhites. The most common one has large clusters of fragrant, pure white flowers. 'Soleil d'Or' has golden-yellow flowers with an orange "cup" in the center. Chinese sacred lily has white flowers and a bright-yellow cup. All three paperwhites are grown the same way. This method doesn't involve soil. Using a solid, shallow bowl, pour pea gravel halfway to the rim. The pea gravel will anchor the bulbs. Set the bulbs, pointed end upright, onto the gravel. Place the bulbs side by side, filling the container. Add water so that just the bottom of the bulbs are the touching the water. Now add more gravel carefully filling in the spaces around each bulb. Then set the container in a cool location in the home for several weeks. During this time roots will develop. Check the water level regularly and add