Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
December, 2006
Regional Report

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Christmas cactus is a favorite at this time of year.

Holiday Plants For a Festive Season

Tis the season when we often receive a gift of a colorful flowering plant. It may be a traditional poinsettia or a Christmas cactus that will add cheerful color to the interior landscape. Can you keep these houseplant guests alive through the holidays? Will the plants survive for many seasons to come?

Whether you receive or give holiday plants, keeping them alive and colorful as the day they left the greenhouse requires that you provide them with favorable growing conditions and some commonsense care.

The Poinsettia
This is the most popular flowering plant to give or receive. It's not the flowers that make it colorful, but the bracts or modified leaves. Choose a plant that has the real flowers -- those little greenish yellow buttons in the center of the colorful bracts -- in a somewhat tight or not fully opened condition. This will ensure that it is a fresh plant that has not been on the bench for several weeks. Make sure the plant is wrapped or protected from the chill of the outdoors when transporting from the garden center to your home. Place it in bright light but not direct sun. Keep the potting soil evenly moist but not soggy. Overwatered poinsettias will show signs of root rot and yellow leaves that will drop. Fertilize with a houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength every two weeks.

Christmas Cactus
The Zygocactus and Schlumbergera are not true cacti; they come from a tropical environment where they thrive in the canopy of the jungle foliage. They do not need full sun, just filtered, bright light. Holiday cacti are somewhat temperamental and will drop their buds and flowers if stressed by temperature fluctuations and overwatering. Place them in bright, filtered light where temperatures are cool (from 55 to 65 degrees F).

Keep the soil moderately moist, allowing it to dry out slightly between waterings. Fertilize with a complete soluble fertilizer every two to three weeks to help the plant build up food reserves for the blooming cycle. To get your plant to flower in future years, it is important to keep the plant in filtered light, a cool location, and where the nights are not interrupted by lights. It will set buds and prepare for another fall and winter display.

Cyclamen are among my favorite winter plants. The delicate flowers resemble orchids, thus its nickname, poor man's orchid. Like the Christmas cactus, it likes filtered, bright light and cool temperatures. It grows from a bulbous corm and should be watered at the potting soil's edge to avoid wetting the crown. Fertilize with a half-strength soluble plant food every two to three weeks. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and drain away excess water in the drainage saucer. If it's placed where it's too hot, the life span of the flowers will be shortened.

During the summer, it's common for cyclamen to go dormant. The foliage will begin to die back and you can reduce watering. Store the plant in a cool, dark place and keep it minimally moist. Then, in late summer, you can repot the corm and return it to filtered light to start the cycle again.

The right amount of water, light, and fertilizer can keep your holiday plants growing for many years to come. Enjoy them and share some with friends.

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