Holiday Plant Care

January

PoinsettiaAmaryllis bulbs that have flowered will now send up leaves. Allow the flower stalk to yellow and wither before removing it from the bulb. Keep bulb and leaves in bright light and continue with normal watering. After May 15, take the potted bulb with long, straplike leaves outside and place it in the garden where it receives morning sun. Fertilize every 10 to 14 days with a liquid 10-10-10 or 15-15-15 mix. The fertilizer is necessary to replenish the bulb for a new season’s flower display. In fall, before the Chicago area’s average frost date of October 15, bring the bulb inside for its resting period. If leaves have yellowed, remove them from the bulb. If they are still green, allow them to yellow before removing them from the bulb. Take the bulb out of its pot, shake off dirt, and place in a cool (40 to 50 degrees), dark room. Signs of new green growth can occur eight to 12 weeks later. At that time, cut off any dried roots from the bulb and repot it in a short, wide pot, using soilless mix. Water well this first time but then let the soil dry a bit before watering again. Place the pot in bright, indirect light and rotate the pot as the flower stalk begins to grow, thus assuring straight growth.

Flowering azaleas will bloom for months in a bright window when provided with even moisture, occasional misting, and quick removal of spent blossoms. The plant can be taken outside to a partially shaded spot in the garden once all danger of frost has passed in May. At that time, begin to fertilize twice a month with a dilute 10-10-10 solution. Some gardeners prefer to use a liquid fertilizer especially for acid-loving plants. Bring the plant back indoors before fall frost arrives.

Cyclamen plants will continue to bloom for a few weeks if they are kept in a north window in a quite cool room (55 to 60 degrees) and watered enough to keep the soil evenly moist, never soggy. Avoid splashing the crown of the plant or the foliage as this might promote mold. Remove fading flowers and their stems as needed. Most gardeners find it too difficult to force the plant to bloom again the following season. Those willing to take the challenge should follow these suggestions. As foliage and flowers begin to fade, withhold water. Remove all dead foliage from the tuber, clean off the soil, and store the tuber in peat moss or vermiculite in a dark, cool (50 degrees) spot for its dormant period. Later in spring or summer, check the tuber for new growth. As soon as growth begins, repot the tuber with its top half exposed and bottom half buried in fresh soilless mix. Resume normal watering and fertilize with a dilute 10-10-10 or 15-15-15 mix twice a month. Cyclamen benefits from summers spent outside in a protected spot in the garden where it receives morning sun. Bring the plant indoors before autumn frost.

Poinsettia plants can also be a challenge to keep year-round, and most gardeners discard the plant after the holidays. However, those trying to force it to rebloom the following season can follow these guidelines. As long as the plant looks healthy, continue to provide it with even moisture, warm temperatures in a bright location, out of direct sun. In six to eight weeks, it will begin to lose its leaves and turn slightly off-color. At that point, cut the entire plant back to 6 inches and repot in a larger pot, adding enough extra soilless mix or potting soil to fill the pot. Water thoroughly and place in a south-facing window. Begin to fertilize twice a month with a dilute 20-20-20 mix. New growth should begin. Begin pinching new stems back once a month to encourage bushy growth. Continue this pinching until the end of summer. In mid-May, after all danger of frost has passed, gradually introduce the plant to the outdoors, bringing it back in at night until the nighttime temperature remains above 60 degrees. Place the pot in a sunny spot where it is protected from strong, afternoon summer sun. Water and fertilize regularly. When night temperatures approach 60 degrees, it’s time to bring the plant inside to a sunny windowsill. By the end of September, the plant must be placed in a completely dark closet or covered with a plastic bag every night from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. — no exceptions! After 8 a.m., it may be placed back in a sunny window but must be returned to the closet at 5 p.m. This dark treatment is necessary for the plant to set its flower buds. Provide normal water and monthly fertilizer during the day. Poinsettia plants thrive in warm rooms with bright light and suffer if exposed to drafts, sudden temperature changes, or excess dryness from heating vents. Continue this treatment until the middle of December, when the plant should be fully colored up and can remain on display for the holidays.

Moth orchid, or Phalaenopsis, will bloom for months during the winter. Continue to provide bright light and keep it out of direct sun in a warm room. During the winter, try to provide extra humidity from pebble trays or humidifiers, or move the plant into a bright bathroom where humidity is high from daily showers. Flowers and developing buds will drop if the plant is moved to a cold room or exposed to drafts. After flowering, allow the stem to yellow before cutting it off at the base of the plant. Now begin to fertilize the plant twice a month with a dilute orchid fertilizer. Wash the foliage monthly. It’s not necessary to take this plant outdoors for the summer; it actually prefers indoor conditions. Continue normal watering and fertilizing until a new stem appears, approximately 10 to 12 months later. When the plant initiates flower buds, discontinue fertilizing.

Any hardy tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinths, or other hardy bulbs that were planted in soil and displayed over the holidays should be treated in the same manner as they would if they were growing outdoors. After blooming, allow the foliage to yellow and wither before removing it from the bulb. Continue to water the bulbs as the soil dries out and fertilize monthly with a 10-10-10 or 15-15-15 dilute fertilizer. Plant the bulbs outside in April or May in a sunny location with good drainage. As you would with other bulbs, plant them at a depth equal to three times their height. Bulbs will not bloom again until the following spring.