Gardening expert Melinda Myers offers a little expert advice with GV readers on caring for some often-difficult holiday houseplants.
The holiday season has arrived. That means you will be on the giving or receiving end of a poinsettia, mum, cyclamen, or other holiday plant. Extend the beauty and longevity of these holiday beauties with proper care. And that starts the minute you leave the florist or garden center. Always protect your gift plants from the harsh outdoors. Professional florists and garden center staff will provide a care tag and wrap your plants in a plastic or paper sleeve.
Remove the wrap as soon as you arrive home. This is especially important when caring for poinsettias. The upturned leaves emit ethylene, a ripening hormone, that can shorten the longevity of your poinsettia’s colorful display.
Rewrap your holiday plant anytime you move it outdoors and never leave it sitting in a cold car while running errands. A chilled plant looks fine until it thaws. By the next day the plant turns grayish-green, wilts and may die. Not such a nice gift after all.
So once your plant arrives home, place it in a cool brightly lit location. The cool temperatures and indirect light will help the blooms last longer. Avoid drafts of hot and cold air since these can dry or chill the plant resulting in leaf and blossom drop.
Fold down the foil wrap to allow sunlight to reach all the leaves. Keep the soil moist but not wet (like a damp sponge). A quick touch of the top inch or two of soil will let you know when it is time to water. Be sure to water thoroughly whenever the top few inches of soil become crumbly and just slightly moist. Pour out any water that collects in the foil, basket, decorative pot or saucer (or place pebbles in the bottom of the container or saucer to elevate the plant above sitting water).
Remove spent flowers from mums, azaleas, cyclamen and kalanchoes. This keeps the plant looking fresh and often encourages more blooms. Remove the true flowers, those yellow knobs in the center of the colorful leaves of the poinsettia. This extends the longevity and beauty of the poinsettia plant.
Once the holidays are past, to continue enjoying these plants through the gray days of winter by moving them to a sunny window, fertilizing with a diluted solution of complete or flowering plant fertilizer and watering as needed.
To further extend their life, add some artificial berries, cut flowers in water picks or silk blooms to replace the faded flowers. Use colorful stakes or natural twigs for added beauty and to support floppy leaves and stems.
Now that you’re armed with these tips, why not add a few plants to this year’s gift list. They are guaranteed to brighten your celebrations and last throughout the holiday season (some well-care-for poinsettias have been known to stick around until Easter).
Melinda Myers, a horticulture instructor with over 30 years’ gardening experience, has authored a dozen books, most recently the Midwest Gardener’s Handbook. To learn more about Melinda’s work, visit melindamyers.com.