Care and Culture of Winter Holiday Plants

One of the nicest gifts of the winter holidays is a living, blooming plant. Learn how to care for these plants so that they become gifts that keep on giving.
Care and Culture of Winter Holiday Plants - Articles
Care and Culture of Winter Holiday Plants

Cyclamen in bloom Photo credit: Carol Papas

At a time when our gardens and their blooms are just a memory, Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus, amaryllis, poinsettia, and cyclamen bring cheer and fragrance to our homes. With proper care and feeding, these plants can become gifts that bloom for years to come.

General Care

Place your holiday bloomers in bright, indirect sunlight. Blooms will last longer in cooler temperatures--65-75°F during the day, and 50-55°F at night. Remember that nighttime temperatures can be lower near windows. Avoid placing plants in drafts, near heat registers, or air conditioners. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. Dramatic temperature fluctuations can cause plants to drop buds and flowers. Test the soil with your finger; if it feels dry to your first knuckle, it’s time to water. Use room temperature water, and water deeply, until water runs into the plant saucer, and then discard the excess. As the blooms on your plants fade, remove them. This will keep the plants looking good, and prevent them from using energy to produce seeds.

Summer Care

Once your plants are finished blooming, they’ll need some care in order to rebloom for the next holiday season.

Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus need regular watering and a dilute, balanced fertilizer every month or so. They can be put outside in light shade for the summer. Put away the plant saucers; they will hold rainwater.

Amaryllis bulbs will bloom again next season, but perhaps a little later. When they finish blooming, remove the flower stalk. Half of the bulb should be above the soil line. If it isn’t, raise the bulb in its pot and tuck in some potting mix below. Gently remove some of the extra soil around the top of the bulb so that the soil line is a half inch below the pot rim. Then give it a feeding of a balanced, time-release fertilizer, noting the date because it will be necessary to do it again later in the summer. If the leaves are floppy, support them with a plant stake. The pots can go outside, minus saucers, for the summer in the same conditions as the Christmas cactus.

Poinsettias will also rebloom, but summer care is a little more involved. Keep the plants actively growing until March, and then taper off the water supply. Store them in a cool, dry place until May, keeping the soil barely moist. In May, cut the plants back to 3-5 inches, place them in a sunny window, and resume watering. Move the plants, minus saucers, outside when nighttime temperatures are in the 60s, in conditions similar to the amaryllis. Pinch the plants once during summer to encourage branching and fuller plants.

Cyclamen like cool temperatures, bright sunlight, and regular watering, but avoid wetting the crown of the plant. When they finish blooming, gradually reduce the amount of water and allow the plant to dry. Remove the corm and store it at 50°F in peat moss or vermiculite. Repot the corm in June, keeping the potting soil slightly above the midpoint of the corm. Begin watering again. In three weeks or so, move the plant (saucerless) out to the garden with the others. Fertilize twice a month with a balanced, dilute fertilizer.

Reblooming

Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus are the easiest of all to rebloom, requiring cool temperatures and short days. At the end of summer, bring them inside when nighttime temperatures go below 50°F. Repot them, if necessary. Place them in a cool window where they will receive natural light. When they begin to bloom, they can be moved around the house for show, but return them to their “happy place” for the long winter.

Amaryllis bulbs do best with a little rest. They can be kept in their pots, or knocked out and stored. If kept in their pots, turn pots on their sides and store them in a cool location. Suspend watering and allow the leaves to dry out. This may take six weeks or more. Remove the dead foliage and clean up the bulbs. Water sparingly until there are signs of life, and begin the cycle again. For later bloom, let the first hard frost take the foliage. Cut off the foliage and knock the bulbs out of their pots. Gently remove as much potting mix as possible. Lay the bulbs in a cool dry place to dry for a couple of weeks, and then store them upright in a loosely covered container. Repot them early in the new year, and begin the cycle again.

Poinsettias need long nights to set flower buds. Bring them back in the house when nighttime temperatures fall below 60°F. Beginning around October 1, place them where they will be in the dark from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m., for about 15 hours. You may have to cover them with a lightproof box. Continue until Thanksgiving, when the buds have formed.

Cyclamen should be brought in before the first frost. Put them in a sunny, cool window. Give them regular water and enjoy the blooms.

If you receive a holiday plant not included here, contact your county Penn State Extension Master Gardeners for advice on care and enjoy!

Authors

Martey Costello