NEIGHBORHOOD GARDEN FOR NOVEMBER 19, 2005
YOU GET A HOLIDAY PLANT?
BY GLADYS JEURINK
Many of us get
a plant for the Holidays. It
may be given to us, or we buy one.
I have outlined below a little bit about the three most common
ones and how to care for them.
Do you remember
not so many years ago, if you had a new poinsettia plant and you put it
in a draft or even if it got cold on the way home, it would drop all of
its leaves? Or that it was always red? The plants available to us for
the past few years now come in different colors and shades of color, and
are not quite so temperamental. However, they are sensitive to cold
drafts and do like to be warm. When
you get any plant from the store this time of year, be sure and cover it
with a sack when you take it to the car or take it from the car into the
house. And do not put any
plant close to a furnace register or it will dry out fast.
are actually shrubs that will grow 6 to 7 feet tall if planted outside
in a non-freeze area. They are natives of Mexico and named after a diplomat (Poinsett)
who brought them to this country. They are kept small by breeding and
chemicals. The true flowers
are those little yellow “things” in the center of the red bracts.
Look them over carefully when buying a plant.
If the yellow flowers are open your plant will not last as long
as they are already blooming.
your plant. They like it
damp but not wet and if kept in good lighting will still be red (or
whatever color you bought) in June when you can cut it back and plant it
outside. The cuttings will
root into new plants.
throw old plants away but if you like challenges, try to get one to
re-bloom for the next Christmas. The ‘Poinsettia’ is a “short
day” plant. That means in
its natural habitat it will start to bloom when the days get shorter.
You can simulate that and force it to bloom for Christmas. To do this
you need to start in September by putting the plant in complete
darkness for 14 hours per day and then in bright light for 10
hours per day. The easiest way to do this is to find a big box to place
over the plant at night. Put the plant in a spare bedroom at 6:00 p.m.
every night and put the box over the plant. At 8:00 a.m. in the morning
take the box off and put the plant in a bright light location. A south
window is great. You must do this every
day for at least 7 to 8 weeks.
If you forget for a day you usually have to start over. The box
is needed because even a street light or yard light shining in a bedroom
window is not dark enough. You must have it covered. When the leaves
start to color, you can stop this process, and leave the plant in a
bright sunny location.
When you get
done with this process, the plant will be taller than your original
plants unless treated. Spider mites and mealy bugs just love to eat
these plants for lunch. Be sure and spray before starting and treat with
a Systemic Insecticide.
that is popular for the holidays is the ‘Christmas Cactus’ (Zygocactus
truncatus). The leaf margins are pointed projections on the flat
leaf while the ‘Easter Cactus” (Schlumbergera
gaertneri or Rhipsalidopsis
rosea) has wavy projections. One article I read said that very
seldom do they ever bloom again because they never get the dry cool
resting period they need. However,
I have had both of these bloom at the same time
Cactus’, and my ‘Easter Cactus’ spend the summer outside on the
east side of the house. This
way they avoid that hot afternoon sun. About September (Labor Day) I put them in the greenhouse for
their cool, dry rest as I don’t turn the heat on until I hear that a
freeze warning is coming. A cool (30 to 40 degrees), dry rest seems to
be very important to trigger blooming. George has his in an east walkout
basement window sill where they get morning sun but are chilled on cold
evenings. After that chill and a dry period, the buds start forming. Blooming is
better if they are root bound, so do not repot unless you really need
to. When the buds appear I fertilize and begin watering again and bring
them into my big south window. The flowers will last longer if the plant
is in a bright light but not in direct sunlight. Propagation is easy,
just break off a number of the flat leaf segments. Let them dry for a day or two and then poke into a potting
I have a pink
cactus and a red one. Last
spring they were the same size, quite large.
Rabbits chewed one down halfway before I rescued it.
The other one they didn’t touch. They seemed to have survived
and ready to bloom for the Holidays.
‘Cyclamen’ (Cyclamen persicum)
is another blooming plant found about Holiday time.
They come in different sizes with the largest as high as 18
inches while the minis may be only 4 to 5 inches tall.
They are from
tubers and usually don’t last very long unless given special care. If
you pour water on the tuber it will rot but if the roots are not kept
damp the blooms will not last. ‘Cyclamen’ do best in a cool window.
They like misting, and they like damp (not wet) roots at all times.
North windows (bright, indirect light) are their favorite spot with 50
to 60 degrees F temperatures. They will bloom for several months if
location is to their liking.
According to an
Iowa State University publication, “In their native Mediterranean
habitat, ‘cyclamens’ grow
in cool sites with annual moist and dry cycles. After blooming, the
leaves yellow and die as the plant slowly declines.
At this time, gradually reduce the frequency of watering to
simulate the dry season and initiate dormancy.
The dormancy or rest period should last approximately 6 to 8
weeks during the late spring and early summer.
During dormancy plants are normally kept in a cool, shaded
location. In mid-to late
summer, remove the plants from their resting location.
Place the dormant plants in a cool, well lit location and resume
watering. Keep the soil
moist but not soggy and fertilize periodically. As
the flower buds appear in fall or winter, place plants for prime viewing
and enjoyment.” (Horticulture and Home Pest News for March 7, 2003,
I have had
better luck with the minis. I put the tuber only halfway into the soil
when replanting. If they like where they are they may not go dormant.
In this case set them outside into a shady spot in June.