Flowering Holiday Plants
by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
Flowering plants add splashes of living color to the holiday season. Proper care keeps them flowering and attractive.
The exact care requirements of flowering plants vary slightly from one to another. Following the care labels that come with them is the best idea, but some general recommendations apply to all of them.
Most flowering plants -- from amaryllis to azalea, Christmas pepper, holiday cacti and poinsettia -- do best when they receive plenty of light. Because of short, often cloudy days, natural light may be in short supply around the holidays, so supplementing natural light with bright light from fluorescent tubes is often recommended.
The prescription for watering holiday flowering plants sounds like something out of Goldilocks and the Three Bears -- you want to apply not too little and not too much. Applying just the right amount of water usually translates into watering whenever the soil surface begins to feel dry. If containers have drainage holes in the bottom, add water until some drains out, and don't allow pots to stand in water for longer than a half-hour. Plants without drainage holes are easy to overwater. Roots need air as well as water -- if they stand too long in waterlogged soil, they rot and die.
The air inside most homes is extremely dry in winter, and that's quite a contrast to the atmosphere in the greenhouses where plants were grown. Leaves may dry around the edges, and flower buds may fail to open and dry up or drop off. Using a humidifier will make the environment more comfortable for people, as well as plants, and keep furniture from drying out. Short of that, placing plants together on trays of moist gravel or in areas of the house that are naturally more humid, such as the kitchen or bathroom, will help prolong flowering.
Keeping plants out of warm drafts and away from appliances that give off heat will help, too. Some plants, particularly poinsettias, don't tolerate cold drafts, either, so they need to be placed where drafts from open doors and cold windows won't swirl around them.
High temperatures often combine with low humidity to shorten the flowering period, so place plants in cool areas. Temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees F during the daytime and 50 to 55 degrees at night are adequate for most plants except cyclamen and paper white narcissus, which do better if daytime temperatures don't exceed 60 to 65 degrees.
Fertilizing usually isn't necessary unless plants are going to be kept and rebloomed. This is practical with amaryllis and holiday cacti, but other flowering plants generally require temperature and/or light conditions that are difficult to achieve in the home.
With proper care, they'll stay looking good for some time. Then you can discard them feeling that you got your money's worth from them.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office