Gifts That Keep On Giving
Holiday plants as gifts can be enjoyed long after the Christmas season is over. Three favorites—the poinsettia, Christmas cactus, and amaryllis—require similar care and can be coaxed into blooming for future holidays.
Red poinsettias are popular, but white, pink, yellow, and bicolor varieties are gaining favor. To rejuvenate your poinsettia for next year’s holiday season, move it outside when night temperatures are not apt to fall much below 50°F (10°C) and prune to keep it bushy and compact. To initiate bloom, the poinsettia needs long nights in complete darkness starting in early October. Cover the plant with a cardboard box or keep it in a closet from about 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. and water sparingly. When color develops in early December, stop the dark treatment.
Like poinsettias, Christmas cacti are available in a kaleidoscope of colors including red, white, pink, cream, and fuchsia. Long-lived, they may produce bountiful blooms for 20 to 30 Christmases to come. You can force a Christmas cactus into bloom in much the same way as a poinsettia, by providing long nights starting around October 1. You can also persuade it to flower by subjecting it to cool night temperatures of 50° to 55°F (10° to 13°C) starting in early November.
Although the amaryllis can be purchased at any stage of development, for many the real fun is growing their own plant from a bulb. Most amaryllis bulbs are sold already potted and with complete growing instructions. Once watering is started, you can expect magnificent lily-like blooms of red, pink, white, or orange in four to six weeks. After flowering, grow the amaryllis as a foliage plant until the leaves turn yellow. Then store the potted bulb on its side in a cool, dark room or basement to rest for eight to ten weeks. When new growth appears, repot the bulb and return it to the light to start the cycle again.
Once your holiday plants are back on track, display them away from drafts in a bright room, but not in direct sunlight; they all prefer 60° to 70°F (16° to 21°C) temperatures and like moist but not soggy soil. As with many of us, these plants are already looking forward to next year’s holiday season.