You can drown your new Holiday houseplants if you keep the fancy wrapping in place.  At least poke holes in the paper to let it drain.  If you love that paper, open it up and put a saucer of gravel under the pot and then re-wrap.  Watch that watering!!!

          Last year I wrote about “POINSETTIA”, “CHRISTMAS CACTUS”, and “CYCLAMEN”. This year I have included a few new Holiday Plants.

          KALANCHOES are succulents and there are several rather different plants that can be used as houseplants such as (1) Velvet Ears, (2) Pen Wipes, (3) Panda Plant, and (4) Pumila. But the one that is a Christmas gift is usually Kalanchoe blossfeldiana. Much work has been done with this one and different colors are available. Normally it blooms in spring as days get longer but florists can have it blooming any time by controlling its day length. Most authors recommend throwing it out when it finishes blooming and a number of people have complained to me about not being able to keep it around but if you like a challenge, put it outdoors in summer and bring it in late.  It does not like temps under 45 degrees F. To bring it back into bloom, cover with a box for 14 hours each night and then put it in light for 10 hours during the day.  Do this for 2 weeks then leave it in the light and blooms should appear in about six weeks. I have kept the original plant by pruning off the tops after blooming and keeping it dry for about a month and also by taking tip prunings.  However, one needs to try to grow a number of plants in order to be a success.

          Christmas Cherry is also called Jerusalem Cherry or Christmas Pepper. “Capsicum annuum” can come in several forms; cherry shaped, cone shaped or in clusters. The cones are the most popular.  The cherry ones may be “Solanum pseudocapsicum” and are toxic to children and pets if eaten.  Cone fruits may be very hot but not toxic and they keep their color for 8 to 12 weeks if kept in a bright light and a cool spot.  They need to be kept moist at all times.  Most of these plants are started from seed and tossed when the peppers wither.  You can save these pepper seeds and plant next spring to be grown outside all summer to have new peppers for Christmas.  You can get stem cuttings to root if you keep your plant through out the winter.  If you get a younger plant there may be several colors from green to yellow to orange to red. There are purple ones but they are not as popular at Christmas.  The plants outside will need full sun.

          About this time of year one can find a Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla). After a few years they will be too big for the house so I try to find someone with a tall, tall window, or a greenhouse. In the meantime I try to have a baby growing up.  The last few years they have been sold with several plants in a pot and very small.  I have never liked this so I use a pair of scissors to cut all but the best one off. After they are a few feet tall, I use them as a Christmas tree. Their stems are not particularly strong so I have small ornaments. My big tree has spent all summer in high shade outside and is too big to be inside except for Christmas so the last two winters has been spent in the garage which is insulated. My “bougainvillea”, “Allamanda”, several water plants, and all the cactus keep it company under two 300 watt bulbs. The roots of a Norfolk Island Pine do not need a large pot but their limbs do! Otherwise the wind upsets them on a bad day outside. I usually also put a layer of small rocks or pebbles on top to help balance.  They like to be damp but not wet.  They will sunburn if you put them directly outside so I do it gradually by starting them on the north side of the house for a week or two and then to the east side under a Linden tree that has been pruned rather high.

          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. Any green plant will suffer if taken out of a warm store or warm car if the air temperature is below 55 degrees F. If the air temperature is between 55 degrees F. and 36 degrees F. you need at least 1 paper sack. (Do not use plastic as it conducts the cold.) Use two bags if the air temperature is between 36 degrees F. and 15 degrees F. Use 3 bags if the air temperature is 15 degrees F. or below. This also goes for cut flowers from the florist. And do not put any plant close to a furnace register or it will dry out fast. 

          ‘Poinsettias’ 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. 

          Don’t drown 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.

          Most people 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 get full instructions for doing this, your County Extension Service has information or go to “”. In the top box scroll down to Extension and in the bottom box type in Poinsettia. The best publication is “Re-flowering Poinsettia and Christmas Cactus” Dec-30-05.

          We have mentioned “Amaryllis” several times during the year.  Most of them are sold in October or November to give the plant time to bloom for Christmas.  Their normal time is late spring and summer but these have been treated to bloom in 6 to 8 weeks after you put them in the window and dampen the soil.  Do not water again until you see a bud or a leaf appear.  They will have long strap like leaves to keep alive until after frost when you can plant them outside. In the fall after the first light frost cut the tops off and let them dry for 10 to 12 weeks before starting again. They must have that rest period in order to bloom again. Some of my bulbs bloom in late winter but most in May and June after I plant them outside. If you want them to bloom at Christmas time you have to start earlier and force them into dormancy for their rest period.  

Copyright Nov. 28, 2006