Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
The poinsettia is probably the best known and most popular holiday plant. It has been hybridized into many different colors, but I believe red is still the most popular. It’s festive and epitomizes the holiday season. It’s unfortunate that because the price of poinsettias has become so reasonable, most of them end up in the garbage after the holidays, and because I hate to see any plant suffer that terrible fate, here is what you need to do to ensure that your poinsettia, along with several other popular holiday plants, will re-bloom next year:
- Keep your poinsettia near a sunny window and continue watering until spring. It should continue to grow and flourish.
- n the spring (May), cut it back 3 to 4 inches. Replant into a pot one size larger. Watch for new growth and begin fertilizing with a water-soluble plant food every two weeks. Always follow label directions.
- In June, move your pot outside to a partially shaded area. Continue watering and fertilizing.
- During the summer (July and August), cut it back 3 to 4 inches. This will keep your plant full, because no one wants a leggy poinsettia.
- In late August, pinch back plant slightly, and move it back inside near a sunny window. Continue watering and fertilizing.
- During September, care for your poinsettia as you would any houseplant.
- October is the most important month. In order to achieve a blooming poinsettia for the holiday season, you will need to keep it in complete darkness from 5 PM-8 AM. I recommend keeping it in a box, basement or closet until Thanksgiving. You should start to see new buds shortly. Relocate plant near a sunny window during the day. Continue watering and fertilizing.
- If your poinsettia re-blooms next Christmas, congratulations! If not, give it another try next year.
In addition, old wives’ tales about poinsettias being poisonous are unfounded and false.
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera)
A native of Central and South America, the Christmas cactus has become a favorite houseplant, both during the holidays and year-round. Everyone’s grandmother had one. It’s so easy to care for — hardy and long-lived — it’s usually passed down from one generationto the next.
Keep your cactus in bright, indirect light, but avoid direct sunlight, as that could burn it. The Christmas cactus is more of tropical plant than a desert plant, but be careful not to overwater. You can create a humid environment for your cactus by placing it on a tray of stones and adding water to the tray. This is actually the preferred watering method, versus watering from the top.
To force your cactus to re-bloom in the fall, it should be watered sparingly and kept cool until buds appear on the tips of plants. During the spring and summer, water and fertilize on a regular basis. Spring is the best time to prune when new growth appears.
A Christmas cactus will bloom several times a year, provided it is located correctly and kept pot-bound. If you want it blooming during the holiday season, provide bright light during the day, total darkness at night, cool temperatures and very little water. The rest of the year, treat it like any other houseplant.
Bud drop on a Christmas cactus is usually caused by insufficient light or overwatering. Do not place your Christmas cactus near hot or cold drafts, or any other plant for that matter. My Christmas cactus blooms every Christmas, with very little care on my part.
This is a fan favorite for the holidays. They are normally sold pre-planted, and only require regular watering to get them started. You’ll see new growth on a daily basis. They are prized for their spectacular blooms, sometimes having four or five HUGE blooms on each flower stalk. They are easy to grow and range in color from white to red, with lots of pink combinations in between.
In order to encourage growth, place your potted bulb near a warm, sunny window. Flowers are long lasting, and can last for weeks. After the flowers are spent, cut the flower stalk down to the bulb, but leave the leaves as they act as nourishment for the bulb itself. Remove brown leaves, however.
Keep your Amaryllis bulb near a sunny window, and water and fertilize it until warm weather arrives. Then,put it outside until the fall. When fall arrives, bring your bulb in, cut the leaves off and put it in a cool, dark place for eight weeks.
Now, it’s time to repot and begin watering. New growth should begin to emerge shortly, and the entire process begins again. I keep bulbs in the vegetable bin in my refrigerator during the eight-week period. With our warm climate in Florida, many people grow Amaryllis bulbs outdoors. They make a great landscape plant with splashes of rich color. Rule of thumb: the larger the bulb, the bigger the flower.
Norfolk Island Pine
This plant is usually sold as a mini Christmas tree. Placed in clay pots and sold everywhere around the holidays, they make great little decorations. However, do NOT plant this tree in your landscape. It is on the invasive plant list. They also have a bad habit of blowing over or breaking apart during wind events. If you decide to keep it, leave it in the clay pot to avoid future problems.
One more thing, most holiday plants come wrapped in colorful wrapping or foil. Be sure to remove before watering to allow proper drainage. As for those of you wondering what to do with an uneaten holiday fruitcake or an ugly gift tie, you’re on your own.
Mike Malloy, local author and artist known as “The Butterfly Man” has been a Naples resident since 1991. A Collier County Master Gardener, he has written two books entitled “Butterfly Gardening Made Easy for Southwest Florida,” and “Tropical Color – A Guide to Colorful Plants for the Southwest Florida Garden”, and currently writes articles on various gardening topics for several local publications. Mike has planted and designed numerous butterfly gardens around Naples including many schools, the City of Naples, Rookery Bay, the Conservancy and Big Cypress. Bring your gardening questions to the Third Street Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings or on Thursdays at the Naples Botanical Garden where he does a Plant Clinic or visit his website, www.naplesbutterfly.com. He also can be heard every Saturday at 4 PM on his call-in garden radio show, “Plant Talk with Mike Malloy,” on 98.9-WGUF.