Many of us still do that – throw out the poinsettias, that is, because they are quite difficult to carry over and bring into bloom again for another season. But today we receive many different, sometimes unfamiliar, plants as gifts – and then what? After a few months, we still have the choice to throw them out, remembering who is boss. Or, we can think of the winter months as a time to enjoy the color and vitality of these holiday plants, to learn about basic plant care, to fine tune knowledge, and eventually to propagate if that is what we want to do.
Reduce the Stress
The main thing to consider is the health of your plant. Almost every plant bought and sent as a Christmas gift has been under a lot of stress. It’s like taking someone out of a storm into your home. Growing plants for the holiday market is big business, and requires some harsh measures to get the desired results. Plants that are the optimum size, or in full bloom, have been fed a high fertilizer diet, and often exposed to intense and extended hours of light. Being forced into perfection takes a lot out of a plant. Some never recover. Others may be OK given some tender loving care.
Blooming plants come from controlled greenhouse conditions where the temperatures are kept cool, both for the plants and for reasons of economy. Replicating the cool daytime temperatures, in the 60-70 degree range, bright light with a few hours of weak winter sunlight, and just enough water to keep the soil moist will provide good care for the Christmas cacti, azaleas, kalanchoe, anthurium, and Rieger begonias. When you go on your post-holiday diet, do the same for these plants and withdraw any fertilizer for a few months. Later on, in the spring months, the needs of these plants will vary and can be adjusted accordingly. Exceptions to this basic care are the poinsettia, cyclamen, a jasmine to some degree, a Norfolk Island pine, the Jerusalem cherry and ornamental pepper plants.
Pay Extra Attention
Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) likes sun or bright light during the day and cooler temperatures at night, and just enough water to stay moist. When the bracts fade or drop off in spring or early summer, take stem cuttings from the plant, root them in sand or a sterile medium, and then pot them up. Set the little cuttings outdoors in light shade or filtered sunlight for the summer where they will grow healthy, but all green, bracts and foliage. Once fall arrives, it’s time to give the poinsettia at least 14 hours of darkness every night. If it receives even the least little bit of light at night during this period, the bracts will not turn red, pink or white, and you will have a green poinsettia for Christmas! Keep it in a room where the lights never go on in the evening, or in a closet (bringing it out during the day), or put a cloth over its head in the evening birdcage style. Whatever works! Continue to water lightly but don’t feed it.
Cyclamen (C. persicum) is the perfect gift choice for friends who like to keep their houses cold. If you have an unheated spare bedroom, or a breezeway, pop your cyclamen there whenever you don’t need to show it off, and it will be happy. Just don’t forget about it! A cyclamen likes to be well watered but also well drained, and it likes bright light but not direct sunlight. Feed it lightly occasionally, and it should continue to bloom well for several months.
Jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) is taking its well-deserved place as a holiday gift plant in garden centers and catalogs. It likes to be kept cool, below 65 degrees, and loves humidity that can be provided by keeping it on a tray of moist pebbles or peastone. If your jasmine is in a hanging basket, which many are, hang it near a source of humidity. Keep the soil moderately moist, but do not feed it.
A Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla), often used as a mini Christmas tree, wants as much direct light as possible which would mean winter sunlight. Turn it 90 degrees every week to prevent its small trunk from bending toward the light. It also likes to be in a humid environment. Water it only when the top half of the soil is dry to the touch. Regular house temperatures are fine.