Caring for Holiday Plants

Caring for Holiday Plants

Part of Ep. 603 Too Cold to Garden

Join Dane County Extension Master Gardener Ann Munson as she shares tips for growing paper whites, Christmas cactus, and what to do with used Christmas trees.

Premiere date: Dec 19, 1998

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
This is the time of year when many of us give or receive holiday plants. Unfortunately, after the holidays are over, we don't always know how to take care of those plants. I'm with Dane County Extension Master Gardener, Ann Munson. Ann's got some tips for us on how to grow these plants. Ann, let's start out with paper-whites. They're pretty easy?

Ann:
They're one of the easiest ones you can get. They come all ready to grow. You just put them in a pot without a drainage hole, add some pebbles or gravel and water.

Shelley:
Now, how much water do we give them? Do we water just to cover the roots or up to the bulb?

Ann:
The roots will start growing through the gravel. And so, you keep adding water every other day or so, up to this far on the bulb.

Shelley:
Okay. And we can use decorative stone like you've got here, too. How long do these take to bloom?

Ann:
They usually take anywhere from two to five weeks to bloom.

Shelley:
Any special lighting requirements?

Ann:
They like a moderate light.

Shelley:
A north or an east window?

Ann:
That's a good light.

Shelley:
How long will they bloom?

Ann:
They bloom from three, four to five weeks.

Shelley:
So, we could start some now, start some in a couple of weeks and another couple of weeks and have blooms all winter long, basically.

Ann:
And into spring.

Shelley:
Okay, great. And what do we do with them after we're done with them?

Ann:
Those bulbs are not hearty in Wisconsin, so you just throw them out.

Shelley:
That's the kind of plant I like to work with! The next one, I've had some success with. This is a Christmas Cactus. Is the only variety that's available?

Ann:
They do come as a Thanksgiving-blooming plant, a Christmas- blooming and then at Easter, too.

Shelley:

Okay, so we could have them blooming all winter long indoors. Well, I know when I go to the store, I always look for healthy buds, color and that's how I pick my plant. But when I bring it home, what do I do to take care of it?

Ann:
What they like is a bright, cool window. You can't let them get too hot, or these flower buds will fall off.

Shelley:
So, you won't get any flowers if it's like over a radiator or something like that.

Ann:
Right, and the soil needs to be kept moist.

Shelley:
Okay. Well, I know when they're done blooming, I treat mine at home just like a houseplant. I fertilize it in the spring, water it-- It even sits out on my porch. What do I do next fall to get it to bloom again?

Ann:
In September, cut back on the watering and stop fertilizing. In mid-September, give it a short day treatment. That means, at 5:00 at night, you put it into a dark closet or a box and then bring it out the next morning at 8:00.

Shelley:
So, it has to be absolutely dark. We're shortening its sunlight.

Ann:
Right.

Shelley:
Okay. And how long will that take?

Ann:
That usually takes anywhere from six to eight weeks.

Shelley:
So, basically, when we see buds forming, it's time to bring it out?

Ann:
Right.

Shelley:
And then, how long until it actually blooms?

Ann:
It'll take about two months.

Shelley:
Then we'll have some beautiful color. Now, sometimes I forget to do things. If I forget to put this in a closet, will it still work?

Ann:
It's a very forgiving plant. It will still bloom.

Shelley:
Oh, good. Excellent. The next one, now, I know some people are a little more concerned about. It's a little harder to grow, they've been told, and that's what I thought, too. What's the first thing with the Poinsettia we look at when we go into the store?

Ann:
When you're going to purchase a plant, you should look at the tight bud in the center. That's the actual flower. The leaves are called bracts. And when you purchase a plant, you want that green bud to be very tight and not open yet.

Shelley:
That means it's just starting and we'll get color much longer.

Ann:
Right, it will last longer.

Shelley:
I know the ones I've picked up are very light. The pot is light. The soil is porous. Is that a problem?

Ann:
You need to make sure you keep it well watered. It also likes cool conditions. Don't put it below 60 degrees at night or above 72 during the day.

Shelley:
Keep it evenly moist. I know when it's done blooming, it looks like this, a really nice attractive house plant. But what do I do next year to make it bloom again?

Ann:
It's a little bit tricky. Starting October 1, you need to go with that short day treatment again. Starting at 5:00 at night, put in the dark room.

Shelley:
Like the Christmas Cactus.

Ann:
And bring it out at 8:00 in the morning.

Shelley:
How long does it take?

Ann:
It takes about four to six weeks.

Shelley:
What happens if I forget? With the Christmas Cactus, you said it was forgiving. Is the Poinsettia?

Ann:
No, it's not. If you forget one night, you'll have to start over again.

Shelley:
Or, I may have to live with it as a beautiful green house plant.

Ann:
Right. But the sap of the plant can be toxic, so it's something you have to be careful with.

Shelley:
So, this is one we may just want to keep away from kids and pets just to be safe.

Ann:
Right.

Shelley:
Good idea. Well, the next question is about the Christmas tree. I don't want to know how to get it to bloom, but what do I do with it after the holidays are over. I'm in a community that doesn't pick up.

Ann:
Well, a lot of people will put it outside near a bird feeder. Birds will come and sit on it. It's nice to look at, too.

Shelley:
So, it provides shelter for them. Anything else I can do with it?

Ann:
What I like to do, is I cut the branches and I use it as a mulch on my perennial bed.

Shelley:
So, you put it just over the plants over the snow?

Ann:
Right. That will keep the roots from heaving next spring.

Shelley:
Do I need to worry, then, if it's been treated, either with a flame retardant or some of the green dyes that I see?

Ann:
Apparently, that's not a problem.

Shelley:
Thanks Ann. With these tips, you can keep your holiday gift plants blooming and healthy all winter long.

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