Your newly acquired Holiday Plants
Perhaps a good way to start this new gardening column is by introducing myself to those of you who don’t know me yet. My name is Ed, and I have always had a passion for plants. I have grown a wide variety over my life time. I have landscaped and designed numerous gardens, both professionally, and as part of my abiding interest in horticulture. I have built and maintained a variety of greenhouses, including a solar pit greenhouse. We have recently added a twenty by thirty foot conservatory to our home, a timber frame cabin, located in the hill towns of Massachusetts. My home is situated on 34 park-like acres, surrounded by gardens and natural wonders. For a number of years I was the Head of Historic Gardens at Hancock Shaker Village. Here I became well versed in Heirloom gardening, period gardening, and organic gardening. My passions also include, water gardening, Koi keeping, greenhouse gardening, and a great love of tropical plants. I am a Master Gardener, with the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Organization. I am also known as the Green Thumb Guru. I can be seen on the lifestyles program, Mass Appeal on NBC affiliate, Channel 22. Here I am the resident plant and garden expert. I have presented topics at Museums, Festivals, garden centers and private events. I still find time to assist home gardeners and to continually improve the extraordinary place I call home.
Now to get down to our topic at hand, January and our newly acquired holiday plants. With the holidays freshly over, and the decorations already in storage, or soon to be, it can appear to be a dismal dark time of year. However, for gardeners, plants people and people who want to start gardening, our holiday plants offer us an opportunity to get a bit more greenery in our lives. Although it seems an eternity away, there are only about 12 weeks before the first day of spring. This fortunately will come sooner than you think.
By now most of us have some pretty nice, left over holiday plants gracing our living spaces. Do not be tempted to throw these out with the old tinsel, garland and broken ornaments. Let’s instead let them brighten our homes, and help them to thrive. With the proper care we can enable them to grow lush and revisit the holidays next season, bigger and better than ever. Two top perennial favorite holiday plants we will be discussing today are the Poinsettia, and the Christmas Cactus. A good way to understand the care for these, and all plants, is to find out where they evolved. This will inform us on how to treat them. Then by basically trying to recreate these conditions we are almost guaranteed success with them. Another quick tip, especially for holiday plants that come wrapped in decorative foil, is to always empty the foil wrapper of any remaining water left over after watering the plant. The roots of all of these plants, like most plants, do not want to be left in standing water. It will lead to root rot and the final demise of your plant rather quickly.
For our first plant a true queen of the holiday plants we have the Poinsettia. This is truly a marvelous winter addition to any home. It is amazingly colorful and comes in a wide variety of sizes, from staggeringly huge, to almost miniscule. They come in a variety of colors ranging from the clearest of whites, to the reddest reds, to pinks and every shade in between. They even come in variegated and spotted and streaked forms. I personally like the unusual patterned, and the colors that don’t necessarily shout Christmas. The reason for this is because they work well for adding color to my other house plant areas after the holidays. I tuck the poinsettias in amongst my other house plants to brighten up the area. I always have a visitor asking me what a type of coleus or other type of plant it is that has such marvelous color this time of year. The Poinsettia itself, comes from the warm southern part of Mexico. They like to live in an environment that mimics this. They like to go slightly dry between watering’s. Ideal temperatures should be about 67 degrees to 75 degrees. These plants like most plants, do not want to be exposed to cold winter drafts. Also, do not let their leaves touch cold window panes or you will lose those leaves. Six hours a day of bright light is perfect for them. If you would like to get them to bloom next year, there is a simple process to follow. When the flowers, which are actually the colored leaves of the plants, look faded and dull, around March to May, prune them back to about 6” to 8“. Bring the plants outdoors after frost. Water the plants, and let the soil become slightly dry to the touch before watering again. Fertilize like you do your other house plants every two weeks. Come October, bring the Poinsettia indoors. Now for the slightly tricky part. You need to find a place that will give the plant complete darkness for 12 to 15 hours a night, but make sure it gets at least 6 hours of light a day. Towards Thanksgiving you will see the plant starting to set flowers. Stop fertilizing, but continue to water as before. Leave the plant out and enjoy the unfolding show.
Our next holiday favorite, is the Christmas Cactus. The flowering display of this plant always brightens up the darkest of winter days. These cacti flower in a myriad of colors, ranging from whites, to yellows, to fuchsias and every tone in between. These plants, despite the name, are not to be confused with desert cacti and they do need more water. These plants come from the mountainous regions of Brazil, along the ocean coast. Here they live in the branches of the rain forest as epiphytes. Thus they like to remain moderately moist, with good humidity. Temperatures of about 65 degrees are ideal. The light they receive should be moderate with some direct sun. From spring though early fall feed them every two weeks. During late fall through winter feed them monthly. During this time to trigger flowering, let the plant be exposed to 50 to 55 degree temperatures. The plant will need to be in the dark for 14 hours a day. This usually happens naturally in the home, unless there is strong artificial light. If this is the case then just cover the plant for this time period.
There you have it, the keys to success for growing the two most popular holiday plants and reblooming them. Next time we will be discussing prepping for Spring, making garden plans and dealing with the flood of catalogs and everything related. Also if you want more information, on this and more plant related topics like this go to Greenthumbguru.com. Until then,“You ought to be gardening”!