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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Holiday Plant Care 101

     As the winter holidays pass, it's a good time to think about some tips and techniques for taking care of the plants that helped make our homes festive and warm.

     The obvious place to start?  Poinsettias, of course.  Tagawa's brings in hundreds of poinsettias every holiday season.  A great many of them are grown with pride in our greenhouses in Brighton.  That extra T.L.C. really pays off.

     The poinsettia I bought at Tagawa's nearly a month ago has barely lost a single leaf.  It looks like it just came from our garden center!

Watering is a very big deal!

     Proper watering is one of the keys to keeping a poinsettia happy.  These beautiful holday plants aren't fussy, but they can be unforgiving if they get too dry.  Once they wilt, or even begin to wilt, they may not recover.

     My best advice is to take your poinsettia to the kitchen sink.  Water it thoroughly at the base of the plant until the excess water flows freely out the drainage holes.  Try not to get the leaves wet.

     Let the plant drain thoroughly.  Now, knowing that the plant's rootball is completely saturated, lift the plant and get a sense of how heavy it is.  That will be your guide.  When the plant is begun to dry out and is about half as heavy, probably in just a few days, it's time for another soaking. 

     You can also use a water meter.  Tagawa's has a great assortment of meters to choose from.  Or you can check the soil with your finger.  When the top one-third of the soil is dry, it's time for another trip to the sink. 

A few more tips...

     Poinsettias will do best in bright, indirect light.  And no drafts, please!   That means the plants shouldn't go anywhere near a doorway, heat vent or fireplace.

     If you keep them healthy, poinsettias can make a nice, lush houseplant that will be right at home outside in the summertime, in some bright filtered shade.

     It is possible to make them "fire" or change color again for next season.  One of Tagawa's plant experts will be happy to explain the steps you'll need to take next fall to make that happen.

T.L.C. for Christmas cactus      

     Christmas cactus is another holiday favorite.  They're a real head-turner when they erupt into a mass of blossoms as the holidays approach.  They can be a little frustrating when they don't read the calendar.  Thus, references to a "Thanksgiving" cactus or an "Easter" cactus.

     Like poinsettias, Christmas cactus can be tricked into blooming at the right time by giving them a prolonged and uninterrupted dark treatment.  They can also can be prompted to set flowers with a six- to eight-week cool treatment, around 50 to 55 degrees. 

Roots and watering

     The Christmas cactus is a tropical-type cactus, and won't hold as much water as the name "cactus" might imply.  The plants should be watered thoroughly, and then allowed to dry out somewhat.  Once the top half of the soil is dry, it's time to water again.

     Christmas cactus have very fine roots.  If the soil is kept too wet, the roots can easily rot.  This fine root system grows very slowly, and does best when the plant is slightly pot-bound.

Summer vacation

     Christmas cactus does very well when it's moved outside during the summer.  The plants should be placed in bright, filtered shade.  However, speaking from personal experience, I have had my Christmas cactus munched by deer.  A little more summer pruning than I had in mind. 

The amazing amarylls

     In his later years, I'd send my grandfather an amaryllis every Christmas.  He couldn't get around much, and spent a lot of time in his easy chair. 

     He seemed to take pride in telling me that he was sure he could see the leaves and flower stalks of his amaryllis grow.  That was a treat for both of us.  And it's why I'm always quick to recommend an amaryllis bulb as a gift for people who want a dazzling, but low maintenance flowering plant for the holidays.

And after the flowers fade?

     Amaryllis don't need bright light while they're blooming.  The flowers that bloom the first year are "feeding" off of energy stored in the bulb months earlier.  After the flowers are gone, a lot of people toss the bulbs out.  But there are options....

    If you want to bring your amaryllis into flower again next holiday season, then you need to pamper the leaves.  Keep the leaves as healthy as possible, which means you don't cut them back unless they turn yellow and die back on their own.

     With bright light and good quality soil, your amaryllis leaves should keep growing into spring, and perhaps longer.  Once the plant goes dormant in the fall, you can remove it from its pot and store the bulb in a medium like perlite or vermiculite.  The goal is to prevent the bulb from drying out by keeping the medium just slightly moist.   The bulb can also be stored in a cool place in its existing pot, and watered very sparingly.

     After a couple of months, the bulb should start to send out new shoots.  That's when it's time to give it a warm sunny spot and the brightest indirect light you have to offer.

Feed me!

     All of these holiday plants will benefit from regular feeding with a good quality houseplant fertilizer. The wonderful folks in Tagawa's houseplant department can give you plenty of choices and specifics.

     Don't be shy about trying to coax your holiday plants into another show of color next season.  You have nothing to loose, and you may well get some beautiful flowers that could make your T.L.C. pay off big!


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