With the holiday season in full swing, it’s likely you’ll have a few new houseplants that weren’t there before December: poinsettias, Christmas cactus, amaryllis, etc. So now what?
Rule number one is to keep these plants away from any others that you already have until you’re convinced that they didn’t bring any insects or diseases with them. If there’s any doubt in your mind, inspect them closely and treat them with the proper solutions before you place them in a permanent spot in your home where they could infect your other houseplants.
Poinsettia plants (Euphorbia pulcherrima) need to be watered thoroughly, taking care to ensure they have adequate drainage. One way to do that is to remove the foil wrapping and allow the moisture to drain. Don’t let the roots sit in a puddle of water. They also need to be kept ideally at temperatures between 55°F and 75°F.
You’d be smart to take the poinsettia to the trash can when it begins to get leggy or fades. That might be a month or two from now or it might have already happened. With the proliferation of these plants every year and the successful breeding programs of professional growers, only those of us with lots of time to fuss and bother will be rewarded by keeping this classic holiday plant for next year’s holiday season. If you were to work out how much time it takes you to primp, care, and then force this plant to color up in November 2019, you’d see what a bargain these plants are when they appear each season. So buck up and toss them into the compost pile. If you simply can’t do that, then learn everything you need to know to care for this colorful plant by consulting The Poinsettia Pages from the University of Illinois Extension Service via their website: https://extension.illinois.edu/poinsettia/care.cfm. For you snowbirds, you might be tempted to take your poinsettia with you to southern climes for the winter. Go ahead and plant it outside if you land in Florida where they’ll become perennials, turning their glorious colors without any intervention.
Christmas cacti (Schlumbergera truncatus) on the other hand, are more than worth your time and effort. Although they carry the name of the holiday, they are really houseplants for all seasons. When not in bloom, they ask little in the way of care and water. When left to their own devices, they will flower without your help. For now, if it’s flowering, maintain a regular watering schedule and fertilize every 4 weeks. Remember it is a CACTUS so it doesn’t need a lot of water. When the blossoms drop off, keep it barely moist. If you choose to put it outside in the warmer months, make sure it goes in a shady spot or one with dappled light. Protect it from drenching rain, and keep it away from strong winds. If you want it to bloom on its own, keep it out of artificial light. For it’s indoor sojourn, try to place it in a room which cools off at night and doesn’t get warmer than about 75 degrees during the day. I have a friend who keeps hers in an unheated basement by a window and when the plant begins to set its buds, she brings it upstairs for all to enjoy. The plant is now about 18” in diameter!
Your amaryllis (Hippeastrum) is a wonderful gift and like your cacti, it can keep on giving for years to come. Keep it going in a brightly lit spot with light watering. Remember to turn the pot every few days so the flower stalk grows straight. Once the flower dies, cut the stalk and keep the foliage lightly watered as it restores energy to the bulb. This is also the time to use some bulb food to fertilize it. You could even place it outside in the shade in the summer. But remember to bring it in to the garage or basement before the season gets cold. Then ignore it until November when you can start watering it lightly to begin the growing cycle.
Inspect your plants regularly for mealybugs, whiteflies, and the like and take immediate action if you notice any creatures in the soil or on the plants. If this is your first application of any control mechanism, now is as good a time as any to put your new year’s resolution of being more organic into action. By starting with your indoor plants, you’ll be well conditioned by the time you need to take similar action outside.
Now that the growing season is officially over, I, for one, am relieved. My tools are a mess and I look forward to the time I need to get things back under control. In the words of William Shakespeare, “…Cold indeed, and labor lost. Then farewell heat, and welcome frost…”
Written by: Lorraine Ballato, garden writer and author of Success With Hydrangeas, A Gardener’s Guide.