Christmas brings a unique selection of plants that provide color and interest to your holiday decorating. Christmas cactus, poinsettia, amaryllis, and rosemary are just a few. While these plants add beauty to your home for an extended season, many are puzzled by their sudden decline as winter comes to an end. Rather than toss your frazzled plant, consider some timely details of care, and these tired plants will become lasting treasures.
The Christmas cactus has a splashy display of long-lasting blooms that appear from November to February. This is a favorite plant because it seems to thrive on neglect. It is a succulent that requires little water, but there are a few things you can do to keep it happy and healthy throughout the year. They prefer bright, indirect sunlight in a draft-free area. These plants have been known to drop their blooms when exposed to drafts. The soil should be soaked thoroughly when watered, and then allowed to dry out completely. Over-watering will make this plant distinctly unhappy. Fertilize monthly with a balanced, diluted fertilizer throughout the winter, spring, and summer.
When the blooms are spent, the plant will benefit from pruning. This will make the stems branch out for the next season’s blooms. Keep the plant in a protected area until spring, and then remove it to a sheltered outdoor location where it will receive filtered sunlight. This cactus will have no difficulty in our hot Texas summer. If the plant seems to be outgrowing the pot, it may be repotted with a sterile potting soil that is high in organic matter. Add sand to the mixture for maximum drainage.
In August as the days begin to lengthen, the plant will prepare to set buds for winter bloom. Reduced water and fertilizer during this time will aid in the process. If the temperatures are soaring, you may want to bring the plant indoors. As the temperature begins to cool, move the plant to a draft free area and begin routine watering. By late October or early November, the buds should be clearly visible; and you can begin to fertilize monthly. This process should give you prolific blooms by Thanksgiving.
The poinsettia is by far the most popular of Christmas plants. Traditionally, this evergreen perennial was only available in red. However, there are now hybrids in pink, yellow, blue, and variegated blooms. Contrary to popular belief, the poinsettia is not poisonous. Its long-lasting blooms and temperature requirements of 55 to 70 degrees make it an excellent indoor plant.
When shopping for a poinsettia, choose plants with blooms that are fully colored with no green edges, stems that are stiff and durable, and plants that are not enclosed by paper or mesh liners. Place your plant in bright, indirect sunlight and keep the soil moderately moist. Fertilizer is required every two to three weeks during the spring, summer, and fall. Blooms may last from November until March.
Poinsettias have strict water requirements. Soil should be consistently moist, but never water-logged. Do not get the foliage wet when watering. Damp soil makes this plant susceptible to fungal diseases that are easily controlled by proper watering, good air circulation, and strict sanitation practices. If these methods fail, a fungicidal spray or drench will be helpful.
During mild spring and summer weather, your plant can be removed outside to a protected area with filtered sunlight. When the blooms fade in March, cut the plant back to about 8 inches in height. Vigorous new growth should be seen by May. Pruning may be required throughout the summer to keep the plant compact.
If the plant is outgrowing its pot, select a new pot no more than four inches larger; and transplant in June. Soil that is high in organic matter such as peat or leaf mold is preferred. The plant can be propagated by stem cutting; however, it is protected by patent and should not be propagated by unlicensed growers.
Poinsettias are photoperiodic, which means that they require specific conditions in order to bloom. Beginning in October, your plant should receive 14 continuous hours of darkness and 6-8 hours of bright, indirect sunlight daily. The natural environment in our area will give you these conditions; however, any supplemental lighting (even a simple light bulb) will disrupt the bloom cycle. Absolute darkness is necessary. When the conditions are met, you will begin to see bloom color in November.
The large, showy flowers of the amaryllis make a bold statement in any holiday setting. The large variety of sizes shapes and colors will fit almost any taste. This plant is easy to grow, and can be brought into bloom every year when the right growing conditions are met. This plant will be a wonderful addition to your holiday home with its beautiful and dramatic 8 to 10-inch flowers.
You will have the best success with good quality bulbs that are purchased from professional growers. Bare bulbs should be planted from November 1st to 15th. It prefers soil that is high in organic matter. Place the bulb so that the top portion is exposed to the air and kept meticulously dry. Thoroughly soak the soil around the bulb, and then do not water again until you see new growth in about three weeks. Place the plant in bright, indirect light in a room that is 70 to 75 degrees.
The plant is unusual in that you will see the bloom stalk first, and then the foliage, which is the opposite of most plants. Once new growth begins, water it once a week and fertilize it monthly with a balanced fertilizer.The amaryllis can be kept inside as a houseplant after the blooms are finished.
When the blooms are spent, cut away the dying stalk; but leave the leaves, and continue to water weekly until spring. At that point, you can take the pot outside, place it in part shade, and cut back on the watering to once every other week. In September, bring the plant indoors and continue watering once every other week.
On October 1st, begin preparing the plant for bloom by eliminating water. When the foliage dies, cut it back, and let the bulb completely dry out. This lets the bulb rest and gets it ready to bloom again. Around November 1st, scoop away the top two inches of soil and replace it with fresh soil that is high in organic matter. Thoroughly soak the soil, and wait about three weeks for new growth to appear. Because the bulb increases in size, the plant will need a larger pot every three or four years.
Rosemary is an evergreen perennial well known for its fragrance and flavor. At Christmas you will find it in nurseries, pruned in the shape of a Christmas tree. This upright shrub has leaves that resemble pine needles, which makes it appropriate for the holiday season. In Parker County your rosemary can live its entire life outside, but it is a delight to have at least one in a pot to either have in your home all year round, or to at least bring in for the Christmas season.
As far as holiday decorating, it’s fun to have a rosemary plant growing in just the right place. Trim it into the shape of a Christmas tree and voila, instant, no expense Christmas decor. If you have fully grown rosemary, you may need to complete the shaping process over a period of two years; but it is worth the wait, and quite the conversation piece.
This plant is well adapted to our Texas weather, loving the sun and thriving on little water. Your plant will thrive in a sunny location with well-draining soil. It blooms intermittently during the year, and the blooms may be blue, pink, or white. It is a delight to brush by it when working outside or to touch it on a windowsill. When planted outside, you have the added bonus of attracting butterflies; and deer will not eat it.
This herb can be dried and stored in airtight containers. It’s great for cooking meat, wild game, chicken and vegetables. The stems may be used as a skewer for veggies and meat; and it is delicious in breads, vinegars, butters, and tea. As a holiday bonus, add your own freshly-grown rosemary to your turkey, sprinkle it on your hot rolls, and let fresh sprigs freshen your holiday linens. This versatile plant will provide long-lasting satisfaction now and throughout the entire year.
As winter draws to a close and you see your holiday plants begin to droop, let it remind you of this article and prompt you to some timely pruning and care. Your efforts will pay off in dividends this time next year. Save that money that you would be spending on new plants, and start a new tradition. Learn how to propagate your healthy, happy plants and pass them along to friends and neighbors. It is a great way to share the joy of a holiday season.
Parker County Master Gardeners, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension