Is there a poinsettia in your future? A Christmas cactus on its way to your doorstep? A small bag of paperwhites waiting to add their pungent fragrance and starry white flowers to your holiday decor?
If you’re one of the millions who will find yourselves decorating with live plants this Christmas season you probably want to know, “How do I take care of this?” and “What do I need to do so it will bloom next year?”
The answer to the first question is easy. Bright light and a consistent water supply will keep your plants looking their best. Getting them to rebloom is a different matter.
Amanda Campbell, manager of display gardens for the Atlanta Botanical Garden, said most of the bulbs in particular are not likely to bloom again. “They’ve been forced to bloom completely off their natural cycle, and while I’m not going to say it couldn’t happen, reblooming is not likely. They’re a good one-time purchase,” she said.
The same can be said about poinsettias, which are native to the tropics, where they become huge trees. The ones decorating your house were grown in a greenhouse to be at peak bloom for Christmas, and after the holidays Campbell said they should be discarded.
Paperwhite narcissus bulbs will grow in just about anything. Put a few in a vase with water and gravel, or pot them up in soil or sand. The key to a good-looking plant is to give it enough water and a sunny enough spot that it doesn’t grow tall and leggy. If you’re buying bulbs that are potted, you’ll get a longer display if you buy plants that are in bud with just a few flowers open.
If the plant is in soil, Campbell advises letting it dry out between watering, but check the moisture every day. Plants indoors dry out faster than you think. These bulbs are really outdoor garden plants and it takes bright sun to keep them sturdy.
“If yours start to flop, get some discrete little stakes and tie up the stems,” she advises.
An amaryllis will have a tall flower stalk with multiple flowers. They bloom in red, pink, orange, coral, white and bicolors. You can keep the plants looking good by cutting off the spent blooms. Cool conditions with bright light will keep the stalk sturdy. Water whenever the soil is dry to the touch.
You might have luck with reblooming if you cut back the flower stalk and grow your amaryllis over the summer like any other houseplant. In the fall, stop watering for six to eight weeks to force the bulb to go dormant. Then remove the old foliage and move the pot to a sunny location. Start watering again and you may get a new bloom stalk in three to eight weeks.
“So many people love poinsettias and hate to see their season end, so they try to save them. But it’s typically not worth the heartache,” Campbell said. First thing to remember about poinsettias is that their sap is a natural latex that can be irritating, so be careful with these plants around children and pets.
Poinsettias can take lower light conditions than other holiday plants so they work well in a living room or den.
If the leaves start yellowing and falling off, you may be watering too much or too little. You’ll know which.
These popular plants naturally bloom around Christmastime, so they’re going to be the easiest to hold over as house plants and to have rebloom for you each year. A sunny window and a little drying between watering will keep them in good condition.
If you keep your plant outdoors through the fall, the natural shortening of the days will bring on the set of new flower buds. Bring it indoors before frost and enjoy it for the holiday season.
These are great pass-along plants. Just break off a stem and stick it in some potting soil. Keep it lightly moist and within a few weeks it will root and you’ll be able to share your beautiful cactus with family and friends. They make wonderful holiday heirlooms.
For more ideas
In addition to all these plants, orchids, bromeliads and cyclamen add festive color to the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s holiday displays. “People think we don’t have a lot going on in the winter, but this is the perfect time to visit, especially the Orchid Center, where the orchids are heading into their peak season of bloom,” Campbell said. The garden is hosting a variety of holiday activities, from a Reindog Parade to high tea. Check out www.atlanta botanicalgarden.org for more information.