The cheerful blooms of a poinsettia, Christmas cactus, or amaryllis add a touch of magic to holiday decorating and can brighten even the grayest of winter days.
Unfortunately, many of these plants are discarded when the holiday decorations come down, but with a little care, you can keep your holiday houseplant thriving and re-blooming!
When you think of Christmas, it’s hard not to think of poinsettias. In fact, they are the most-produced potted plant in the United States.
A native of Mexico, the poinsettia was first associated with Christmas in the 1600s when Franciscan priests living in southern Mexico used the colorful leaves to decorate their extravagant nativity scenes.
What we think of as the flowers of the Poinsettia are actually bracts or modified leaves, which look like petals. The actual flowers of the plant, called cyathia, are the tiny, yellow blossoms in the center of the leaf bracts.
As the days begin to shorten the poinsettia begin to bloom – the green bracts turning to red. Of course, these days you can find poinsettias in dark burgundy, pink, and cream, or with their leaves splashed with mixture of candy-cane colors.
There is a misconception that poinsettias are poisonous; they are not fatal if eaten. However, if you have pets with a tendency to chew houseplants, you should keep them out of reach, as they will cause stomach upset.
To keep your poinsettia looking its best through the holidays, place it near a window where it will receive bright daylight and consistent temperatures (65 to 70 degrees). It’s best to avoid placing it where temperatures fluctuate or are drying, like near heat vents or fireplaces.
As a tropical plant, Poinsettias grow well in a moist environment. Water when the soil surface feels dry or when the container feels light. Poinsettia don’t like to dry out, but they also don’t want to sit in excess water.
To continue to grow your poinsettia after the holidays, transplant it to a larger container with good drainage and pot it up with a quality potting mix. A monthly feeding with an all-purpose plant fertilizer or fish emulsion will keep your plant growing strong.
Perhaps the most stunning holiday houseplant is the Amaryllis with its huge, trumpet shaped flowers.
True amaryllis are a native plant of South Africa, however, the bulbs that are available to us today are native to Central and South America in the genus Hippeastrum.
Flowers can be anywhere from 4 to 10 inches across in a single or double bloom. Popular holiday colors include red and white, but amaryllis flowers can vary from shades of rose, salmon, and apricot to deep burgundy. Some flowers are bicolored or may have petals edged in contrasting colors.
Amaryllis are easy to grow and you can purchase bare bulbs, waxed bulbs, or kits that contain everything you need to grow. They grow and bloom best in a narrow container as they prefer to be a little pot bound.
Pot up the bulb in quality potting mix that contains peat, coir, or other organic matter. Fill a container with soil, so that the bulb sits above the edge of the container. Then cover the bulb about halfway with soil, leaving the top exposed.
Water it well and allow it to drain completely (doing this in the sink is a good idea). Then place the bulb in a sunny window. When the top 2 inches of the soil feels dry, water again, but avoid over-watering or leaving the plant standing in water.
Once the flower buds begin to open, move the plant out of direct sunlight and enjoy its beauty! After the flowers have faded, cut off the spent blooms to prevent seed formation, but leave the flower stalk. When the stalk turns yellow cut it off, but don’t remove the leaves. Place the plant back in a sunny window where photosynthesis will continue to feed the bulb.
Unlike other types of bulbs, amaryllis don’t require a rest or dormant period to re-bloom. They’ll bloom again if allowed to grow (bonus!!). Fertilize your plant once a month with a houseplant fertilizer that is high is phosphorus following the manufacturer’s instructions.
There are actually several types of Schlumbergera and each blooms at a different time of the year. To determine which variety you have, read Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter Cactus? How to Tell.
Calling these plants cacti is a bit of a misnomer. Unlike desert cacti which are highly drought resistant, these holiday houseplants are actually succulents. Plants in the Schlumbergera family grow in and among the tree branches in the tropical rainforests of Brazil. Given their natural habitat, they require lots of water to thrive.
The Christmas cactus is fairly easy to care for and with a little advanced planning, you can even coax your cactus into re-blooming next year, just in time for the holidays!
Christmas cacti prefer bright light and temperatures around 68 degrees, especially when they are blooming. They like also like humid environments, so a regular misting of water is better than over-watering. Placing a few pebbles in the bottom of a plant saucer will also help to add some humidity.
Only water your cactus when the soil is dry to the touch and don’t let your soil get water-logged or allow the plant to stand in water. It’s better to underwater than over-water.
Once the blooms fade, fertilize the plant once a month through the summer months with a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer. When the temperatures warm up in the spring, you can move your plants outside to an area that receives dappled shade. To promote branching and more flowers, pinch back the stems in early June.
About six to eight weeks before you want your cactus to re-bloom, force dormancy by cutting back on water and reducing light and the temperature. I move my plants to the garage in September to begin dormancy.
For dormancy, the plants require 12 to 14 hours of darkness each day and a cool, 50-degree environment. New flower buds will begin to appear within 3 to 4 weeks of dormancy. Once the buds are set, you can move the plant back into bright light and enjoy the lovely blooms!