Here are tips on caring for popular holiday plants
By Janelle Daberkow, University of Minnesota Extension
Likely the most popular of all holiday plants is, by a landslide vote, the poinsettia. I would venture to say a close second in popularity would be the amaryllis. Both plants add marvelous color to our homes during the dreary winter and serve as a great gift, if you are still in need of an idea.
Poinsettias range in size from having large, 12 inch flowers, to being a small accent plant to top a bookcase or corner table. Although the typical color of poinsettia is red, there are many color varieties of poinsettia from cream, to pink or purple, and several variegated and speckled leaf patterns.
The flowers of a poinsettia are actually groups of modified colored leaves called bracts that surround clusters of the inconspicuous true flowers.
Poinsettia plant breeding has come a long way, and today it is not uncommon for poinsettias to keep long into March or April.
Keep in mind when transporting poinsettia plants that even a small amount of a cold draft will cause them to drop their flowers. It is also important to keep the bracts from folding in transport. If these fold or break they will exude sap, so it is helpful to cut off the protective plastic bag or covering instead of pulling it off of the plant.
Once a poinsettia has reached its home, keep it in a window that exposes the plant to six or more hours of bright light, keeping it away from drafts both cold and hot.
Poinsettias do best with evenly moist soil. Too much water will cause bracts to wither and leaves to yellow and drop. If your poinsettia has a decorative foil or plastic covering its pot, poke some holes in the bottom of the foil and place it on a plate or saucer to catch excess moisture that would have been trapped.
It is not necessary to fertilize poinsettias for the first six weeks after it is brought into the home. After that time, fertilize monthly using a diluted house plant fertilizer mixed at half of the label recommendation.
After the holidays there are three possibilities for what to do with your poinsettia. You can discard it, keep it a as a green foliage plant, or try and force it to bloom again next year.
If you choose to keep the plant and want it to bloom next year, cut the plant back to about eight inches after the colored brachts have become a muddy green color. By the end of May you should have lush new growth.
Before placing the plant outdoors, repot it into a slightly larger pot with fresh soil. Place the potted plant into a hole that is as deep as the pot is tall and in a location where it won’t be exposed to direct mid-day sun.
Be sure to rotate the sunken pot weekly and break off any roots that may extend through the drainage holes. Bring the poinsettia back into the home as soon as evening temperatures cool in the fall and place it back into a sunny location in your home.
Starting Oct. 1, put the poinsettia in a dark closet or cover it with a box that does not allow light to enter. Keep it in this darkness for 14 hours every evening, placing it in bright sunlight for the rest of the day. This is a very labor intensive process to initiate color and blooms, and this is why many choose to purchase a new nursery grown plant each holiday season.
The amaryllis also has beautiful blooms and color producing six to ten inch flowers in colors of red, pink, white, or bi-colored patterns. Whether purchased as a potted plant or bulb, the amaryllis blooms without much special treatment. And if cared for properly, the bulb will bloom for you for years to come.
If you purchase a bulb, plant it in a pot that is about two inches greater in diameter than the bulb. It is important that the bulb is planted so that the top one-third of the bulb extends above the potting mixture.
Use a good potting soil or soilless mixture that drains well. Water the bulb well and place it into a cool place for a month or so until a shoot appears. Then move into bright light and fertilize every two weeks with a balanced fertilizer mixed to half the label recommendation.
Keep your amaryllis plant out of direct sunlight while in bloom to keep the flower color from fading. Cooler temperatures and shadier locations also will help retain flowers longer.
Amaryllis will re-bloom next year if you allow the plant to manufacture and store food in the bulb. After blooming, cut off the flowers to prevent seeds from forming.
You do not need to remove the green stalk until it yellows on its own, as this stalk and any leaves are what will take in nutrients to store in the bulb. Water the amaryllis while it is still green but be careful not to overwater or water when the soil is already moist as this could promote rotting in the bulb.
The bulb and stalk can be placed outdoors after the first part of June. Continue to fertilize through the year. Then bring the bulb indoors before the first snowfall.
Store it in pots in a dark place such as a basement or closet and do not water the bulb. Remove the leaves and stalk after they have browned and shriveled.
The bulb can be forced to bloom again once it is allowed to rest for eight to 12 weeks.
If you are unable to produce stalks from the bulb, this means the bulb did not receive enough stored nutrients during the post-blooming period. It is very important that the plant receives enough sunlight after it is done blooming in order to have enough energy to re-bloom.
Enjoy this and future holiday seasons with these holiday plants.