Pots and Plants: Christmas gift plants can last long after the holidays

Receivers of Christmas gift plants find all kinds of advice about their care to keep them at their best. Most are plants that will bloom or have bloomed, a delight for us as the stark winter months sometimes seem so dreary. I and others have written about winter plant care before, but if you are like me, you probably stashed the advice away somewhere never to be located again.

The most popular of course are the poinsettia which are a little fussy, followed by various Christmas cacti and Amaryllis. These last two plants are easy to care for, have very long lives that produce exquisitely colorful blossoms each year and sometimes twice.

If your Amaryllis is in bud or blossoming, it needs only water and bright light (not direct sun).

All winter plants in bloom, prefer cool locations. Keep them away from heat registers. I find, as many others have substantiated, leaving a houseplant in the same location acclimates it to its surroundings and it will do better than if moved to different locations. This does not mean you cannot bring it into the room for a few hours for special occasions.

After the Amaryllis blooms have faded, cut the stalk back to about an inch from the bulb. If leaves start to form on the remaining stalk, let them grow. Fertilize lightly and water regularly. Be sure you have a drainage hole in the pot. As warm weather begins, the potted plant can be placed outdoors in a shaded area for the summer. My mother kept all of hers indoors in an east window for the summer.

The leaves will die back by late summer as the bulb is going into its resting stage. Stop fertilizing and water less frequently. Place the bulb in a cool dry spot for at least two months. It may be re-potted after resting if the bulb has grown a lot. It should then bloom at Christmas time. Amaryllis will bloom for years and even produce side bulbs that can be removed to start new plants.

The Christmas cactus is a plant that will outlive even the grower. There are records of some being 100 years old. My daughter has one that is from 30 – 40 years old that has never failed to produce its holiday mass of striking magenta flowers. It has never been moved from its original location. Cactus plants can drop their buds when moved.

Most of us know there are three holiday cacti, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. They all require the same care, short days and long cool nights. My daughter’s huge, huge, plant covered with hundreds of blooms is always in a recreation room that is cool, about 60 degrees all winter. It is in indirect light. She fertilizes it once in early spring with “Miracle Gro” and again a month later.

Another friend has good luck keeping her cactus in the living room and covers it with a dark cloth for about two days the end of September. This encourages Christmas bloom. Easter cactus has quite different leaf segments, more rounded and smooth. The easy way to identify an Easter cactus is to look for a tiny brownish mustache on the end of each leaf segment. These bloom only once in spring. The other two will occasionally bloom twice.

Many holiday cacti owners place their plants outdoors after danger of frost and take them in before the first fall frost. They like the cool short days and will readily set buds outdoors. Pots should be placed above the soil line with some support to prevent slugs from damaging the plant.

Any of these cacti can be trimmed to size or shaped by cutting off leaf segments as you wish. They are also easily propagated by removing segments and placing them in light soil or water and potting as soon as roots appear.

Betty Winscher is a Master Gardener and can be reached at (320) 584-8055 or via e-mail at [email protected]