How to prolong life of holiday plants
If you received a flowering plant as a Christmas gift, proper care will determine the amount of time it remains attractive in your home. You don't need a lot of gardening experience to keep a quality holiday plant. If you follow a few simple suggestions, the plants and their flowers will last for weeks after the holiday season.
Here are some tips: Set the plants in bright light, but not direct sunlight; keep them as cool as possible; keep them out of drafts; make certain the soil is kept moist, but not soggy; and remove the flowers when they have faded.
Once plants begin to flower, they need a lot of light to maintain quality. South, east or west windows provide the most light in winter. Avoid full sun, which tends to fade the flowers.
It's also a good idea to turn the plant weekly to keep it growing straight. If you do have to set your holiday plant in a poorly-lighted room, put it as close to artificial light as possible. Incandescent light gives off heat that may dry the plant.
Cooler indoor temperatures are ideal for most flowering plants. Generally, temperatures around 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit in the day and 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit at night will not harm the plants. Locations near windows are often a bit cooler than other spots in a room, and windows offer extra light.
Most holiday plants are produced under rather intensive conditions. They are not able to withstand moisture extremes around their root systems. The roots will be severely damaged if they are dry or overwatered.
To help your Christmas cactus live longer, avoid overwatering. Drench the soil thoroughly and allow it to dry out completely before watering again. Use a fertile potting soil, never gravel.
During winter, indoor air is drier and plants tend to lose water faster. Open flowers on a plant will also lose water much faster than foliage. When watering, add water until it passes through the drain holes in the bottom of the pot. Prevent a waterlogged condition by discarding extra drain water.
Remove faded blooms to prevent seed-set from sapping your plant's strength. This will also keep the plant more attractive, as the faded blooms detract from the rest of the plant.
Did you receive a poinsettia for Christmas? If you want to try to keep it until next year, gradually stop watering it when the leaves begin to fall. Store the plant in a cool, dark basement until April or May, giving it just enough water to keep the roots and stems from drying out.
In May, cut the stems back to three to five inches and repot the poinsettia. Plant the poinsettia in your yard, keep it watered and fertilized in summer. Before the cool weather sets in next year, bring it inside and put it in a sunny window.
If you want it to flower for Christmas, in early October you must make sure the plant is kept in total darkness 5 p.m. - 8 a.m. until Thanksgiving.
For answers to your garden questions, call the Lehigh County Cooperative Extension Office, 610-391-9840, or Northampton County Cooperative Extension Office, 610-746-1970, and ask to speak with a Master Gardener. Volunteers staff phone lines several days a week, Monday - Friday.
Growing Green is contributed by Lehigh County Cooperative Extension Office Staff and Master Gardeners.