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Proper care extends life, beauty of holiday plants

By Bodie V. Pennisi
University of Georgia

Over the holidays, many potted plants find their way into our homes. Whether they're thoughtful gifts or you bought them yourself, they can brighten your home as little else can do until their blooms fade and fall.

Even after the blooms are gone, though, you can still enjoy holiday potted plants. You can bring back their special beauty year after year.

Amaryllis, for instance, is a favorite that provides strikingly beautiful winter blooms. When all of its blooms have faded, cut the bloom stalk off near the soil surface. Sometimes a bulb will send up a second stalk in January if it's vigorous you keep the plant in strong light.

Whenever the blooms are gone, allow the leaves to remain on the plant. Keep it in a sunny window until May and then plant it outdoors for the summer. Next September, dig up the bulb, cut off the foliage and keep it dry until November. Then repot the bulb to enjoy its winter blooms again.

Christmas cactus, too, is one of the world's most widely cultivated and enjoyed groups of cacti. These plants have been extensively hybridized to flower in a range of colors, including magenta, white, pink, salmon and orange.

Keep these plants in bright light after the blooms are gone. Water them only when a finger thrust into the soil comes up dry. Overwatering can lead to root rot.

Feed your Christmas cactus lightly in the winter. It will need more nutrients when spring comes and you hang them back outdoors.

Here are some tips on caring for other holiday favorites:

Gloxinia. Treat these plants as you do African violets. Avoid high-intensity, direct sunlight. Water them from the saucer with warm water (at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit). Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. And avoid cold or hot drafts.

Kalanchoe. This is perhaps the most durable of the red-flowering potted plants available in the winter holidays. It will be happy when it's warm and dry. Keeping it too dry, however, will shorten the life of its flowers.

Begonia. Rieger begonias look a lot like the garden tuberous and "Nonstop" begonias. Riegers are relatively tolerant of sun exposure and temperature and prefer a slightly moist medium.

(Bodie Pennisi is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Bodie Pennisi is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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