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Care for Christmas Plants & Flowering Indoor Plants
submitted by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator
Colorful flowering houseplants can be the right thing to pick up the spirits of many during the drab winter months.
Whether it's a traditional Christmas plant -- like the poinsettia, cyclamen or Jerusalem cherry -- or a relative newcomer -- like the kalanchoe or Rieger begonia -- take time to wrap it well before you transport it. Holiday plants are greenhouse-grown, so they won't last long if they're exposed to cold temperatures.
If you're taking a plant directly from the florist's shop to home, ask the seller to bundle it thoroughly against the cold. Wrap several layers of newspapers around the pot and several more around the whole plant. Then place the plant in a heavy paper bag or box. This will keep the roots from being chilled and hold warm air around the top.
When moving plants to or from your heated car, move quickly. Leaving plants in an unheated car for even a short time can injure or kill them.
Keep in mind that most Christmas plants do not tolerate either hot or cold drafts well. They do best with temperatures on the cool side (65 to 75 degrees F during the day and a little lower at night) and plenty of bright light. They will probably be chilled and injured if placed on a cold windowsill, however, especially if drapes or shades are pulled over them at night. A table near a window is better.
Avoid placing them where they'll be hit by blasts of cold air from an exterior door or gusts of hot air from a furnace duct. Heat from a wood stove, fireplace or heat-producing appliance like a television set will also speed their decline.
Once the plants are in place, keep them looking attractive and blooming longer by giving them proper care.
Most flowering plants -- including amaryllis, azalea, begonia, Christmas pepper, chrysanthemum, cyclamen, gloxinia, holiday cacti and poinsettia -- bloom best in a spot that receives all the natural light available. Better yet is 12 to 16 hours of bright light from fluorescent tubes.
Check plants daily and water whenever the soil surface begins to feel dry. If containers have drainage holes in the bottom, add water until some drains out the bottom. Plants in containers without drainage holes are very easy to overwater. Plant roots need air as well as water -- too much water and they die and then rot.
Compared to the greenhouses where the plants were grown, most houses are extremely dry, and plants may suffer from low humidity. Leaves may dry around the edges and flower buds fail to open or fall prematurely. Grouping plants on trays of moist gravel, placing them in areas of the house that are naturally more humid, such as the kitchen or bathroom, or using a room humidifier to add moisture to the air should help prolong flowering. Keeping plants out of warm drafts and away from TVs and other appliances that give off heat will also help.
High temperatures will shorten the flowering period, as well as increase problems due to low humidity so place plants where they'll be exposed to temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees F during the daytime and 50 to 55 degrees at night. Cyclamen and paperwhite narcissus will hold up better at 60 to 65 degrees during the day and 50 degrees at night.
Fertilizing usually isn't necessary unless the plants are going to be kept and rebloomed and this is usually practical only with amaryllis and holiday cacti. Other flowering plants require temperature and/or light conditions that are difficult to achieve in the home.
It's a good idea to buy such plants with the idea that you'll enjoy them as long as they're growing well and looking good. With proper care, they'll remain attractive 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