Pam Brown (ELW resident)
Blooming plants make such a lovely statement during the holidays. While poinsettias are the most purchased holiday plant, you might also consider amaryllis, holiday cactus, cyclamen, kalanchoe, red or white begonias and impatiens. And, for outdoors, you might consider the containers planted with several blooming plants that are sold at the box stores. They usually contain perennials that will last all winter.When choosing plants with blooms, look for those with only a few blooms open and plenty of buds (on poinsettias the blooms are the small yellow center flowers), healthy foliage and a compact form. For amaryllis, look for plants with the bloom stalk just emerging from the bulb and the bud well formed. Beware of amaryllis in the pre-packaged boxes. The bulb may have already sprouted a bloom stalk that is twisted inside the box. These stalks will not straighten, so only choose those with bulbs that are just beginning to sprout.
The most crucial tip for keeping these plants looking good is proper watering. The pot containing the plant must have bottom drainage holes. Plants can dry out quickly, so check them daily. Water if the top inch of soil is dry. Over watering is just as bad. Plants do not like to sit in water. Remove decorative foil or plastic wrappers covering the pot or punch holes in them. Let water drain well before placing plants on a water proof container to protect your table tops. High temperatures and drying can cause buds and flowers to drop on holiday cactus.
Cooler temperatures will preserve blooms longer. Cyclamen especially prefer very cool temperatures, so if you place them in a protected area outside over night when no frost is predicted, the blooms will last longer. Bring plants inside in the morning before any sun reaches them. Poinsettias and holiday cactus prefer to have a constant temperature, so don’t move them outside. All of these plants listed appreciate being near windows with high levels of bright light but no direct sun. Also, keep plants out of drafts.
After the holidays, all of the mentioned plants except cyclamen can be maintained in pots or added to your landscape. I call amaryllis the Florida tulip; the bulbs will thrive and multiply in well drained soil in a site with morning sun and some dappled afternoon shade. Bulbs forced to bloom at
Christmas will not bloom the first spring after planting but should reward you in March or April for years afterwards. Begonias and impatiens do very well in our winter landscapes. Impatiens need frost protection and can become deer candy, so protected pots may be a better option. Kalanchoe is perennial in our area and enjoys full sun and well drained soil. Holiday cactus can be grown as a house plant or on a protected lanai for years. Place it outside in a non-lighted area that is deer proof in the fall as the nights begin to cool and bring it back inside when you see buds forming. Keep soil barely moist. Shriveled, limp stems are a sign that the cactus is too dry.
While poinsettias can be planted outside after the holidays, I find that they are very prone to insects and disease and you must give them 14 – 16 hours of absolute darkness from October 1 to December 1 in order to get them to bloom again. I personally prefer to buy new ones each year. If you want to try planting them in the landscape after the holidays, this University of Florida web site has lots of information: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep349