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Color the season bright with holiday plants
By JIM MOLL, Extension Cords
Published December 19, 2007
Graham Hale, managing general partner of Bay Gardens, inspects one of 28,000 poinsettia plants in greenhouse No. 5 of the nursery. Bay Gardens, 9107 N Taylor Road in Seffner, typically has about 100,000 poinsettias for the holidays. Bay Gardens has a retail shop open to the public.
[Times files (2003)]
This time of the year would be much less colorful without all the plants available during the holidays.
The poinsettia is the most common. The color is not produced by flowers, but by modified leaves called bracts. The actual flower is small, green and yellow and nearly inconspicuous; it's the part of the plant that falls onto the coffee table. The flowers are located at the tip of the branches just above the colored bracts.
A lot of breeding has occurred since the poinsettia was introduced in the United States in 1925. Thankfully, the selection process has given us plants that are much less temperamental than the ones grown a few decades ago. The poinsettia comes in a wide array of colors - even yellow and purple.
Keeping a poinsettia looking great during the holidays is not too difficult. The plant will keep its bright color longer if placed in a well lighted area. Water thoroughly, poking a hole in the decorative wrap if needed to allow extra water to drain away. Do not water until the soil surface is dry. Fertilizer will not be needed until after the holidays.
After the danger of frost passes, poinsettias can be planted outside. Select a place that will offer protection from the cold winter winds. The south or east side of house will work well. Adding organic matter, compost or topsoil to the soil is beneficial for the plant.
Once planted, cut the plant back to about 4 to 6 inches. Pinch the plants frequently to keep them bushy. Finish pinching by Sept. 1 so there will be enough time for the bracts to color up for the holiday season.
Keep in mind that poinsettias have many problems with insects and diseases and are one of the most difficult plants to get to re-bloom in the landscape. Poinsettias will benefit from three fertilizer applications - in late spring, early summer and again in late summer. Remember, the poinsettia is from the warm climate of Mexico. If a frost is expected, covering the plant will help keep it from freezing.
The old-fashioned Christmas cactus is an old-time favorite plant. It sets flowers when the nighttime temperatures are below 50 degrees and the nights are longer than 12 hours. That combination of factors makes Christmas cactus difficult to re-flower in a modern home.
Thankfully, the Thanksgiving cactus is not nearly so temperamental. The naturally shorter days and cooler temperatures in the house will set the flowers buds in your home, albeit a few weeks before Christmas. Unless you have an heirloom plant from your grandmother, you are more likely to see the Thanksgiving cactus today. It is much easier to get to flower in modern homes that are heated and have electric lights.
The various holiday cacti make great houseplants and require simple care. The color can range from white, bicolor and pink to red. They grow well in a brightly lit window. A well drained potting mix is a must. If the plant stays too wet for too long, it will rot.
Should you decide to place the plant outside, remember to protect it from frost and the heavy summer rains to keep the plant from rotting. A good place to grow your cactus is under the eave of the house or a covered lanai. A liquid fertilizer should be applied once a month, spring to fall.
Cyclamen are making a comeback. This old-fashioned favorite makes a great winter display. Cyclamen need lots of bright light, but not too much sun. They are best enjoyed outside rather than inside.
Okay, you can bring them in for a day or two, but put them back outside if you want them to keep blooming. Cyclamen like our cool nights as long as they are protected from frost. While they are considered perennials, enjoy them until it gets hot in late spring and then compost them.
Amaryllis is a wonderful holiday plant. The large bell-shaped flowers are a great conversation piece. If you receive one in bloom, enjoy it inside while the flowers last. If received in a dormant state, begin watering the bulb, keeping the surface of the potting mix lightly moist. Place in a brightly lit window. In about six to eight weeks, you will be rewarded with a great flower display.
After the plant flowers, you should remove the stalk, and you can plant them into the ground. Select an area in your yard that gets a bit of shade, especially in the afternoon. You should lightly apply a general-purpose fertilizer 6-6-6, 10-10-10 etc. to the surrounding soil three times during the growing season. Our mild climate means they will flower each spring for years to come.
Happy holidays and happy gardening!
Jim Moll is the urban horticulture extension agent for the Hernando County Cooperative Extension Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.