Three Plants to Bring Holiday Cheer

Filed in Gardening by on November 15, 2014

Blooming plants are welcome at my house during the holiday season. Whether welcome as guests or housemates depends on how easy the plans are to care for after they bloom. Paper white narcissi and poinsettia just spend holidays with me, while amaryllis makes itself at home year around.

Paper Whites

Paper Whites

Paper white narcissi are among my favorites. Small white daffodil faces beam cheerily from a side table in my living room.

Paper whites can sucessfully be grown in gravel and water, but I prefer soil because it results in a stronger root system. To plant, place an inch or two of potting soil on the bottom of a container. Space out the bulbs so they’re close but not touching, and press them lighting into the soil. Add enough soil to come up to the tips and gently firm the soil around the bulbs. To make more attractive, top dress with decorative gravel or horticultural stone.

After potting, thoroughly moisten the soil and place the container somewhere cool (60-65 degrees) and dark for about a week. Then move the bulbs into a sunny spot (not direct sunlight) and you’ll have blooms within two to three weeks. To keep the plant from getting leggy and lodging (falling over), water with a solution of a capful of rubbing alcohol to a quart of water (the alcohol will act as a growth regulator). Continue watering as needed until the bulbs have finished blooming.

Paper whites have a strong, spicy fragrance. Whether pleasing or not is in the nose of the beholder. Occasionally holiday visitors scrunch up their noses and say, “What’s that smell?” I smile and say, “My paper whites are blooming. Aren’t they lovely?”

Paper whites cannot be saved, so toss them out after they’ve bloomed. To have continuous bloom throughout the holidays, plant a few bulbs every couple of weeks from mid November through mid December.

Poinsettias

Poinsettias

Poinsettias are the houseplant most evocative of December holiday festivities. Traditionally, poinsettias come in red, white or pink, but many new varieties exist. Poinsettia’s “blooms” are not flowers but bracts, or modified leaves. Poinsettias do have flowers, however, and while not showy, they do provide a clue to the plant’s maturity. Look for small flowers (at the base of the bracts) that are green or red and fresh looking rather than covered with yellow grains of pollen. A less mature plant will stay looking good longer than one that’s more mature.

To thrive, poinsettias need conditions in the home similar to those found in the greenhouse. Ideal are temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees, six hours of bright, natural daylight and moist soil. Avoid placing plants near cool drafts, fireplaces or ventilating ducts where air is apt to be hot and dry.

Although pointsettias can, with time, patience and know-how, be coaxed to “bloom” next year, most people enjoy their beauty during the holiday season and throw them out when they cease to be attractive. Even once the bracts fade, however, the green of a healthy poinsettia can be a welcome addition to indoor winter scenery. If keeping poinsettias through the winter, give them an all-purpose household plant fertilizer at half strength every six to eight weeks to maintain the green foliage and promote new growth.

Amaryllis

Amaryllis

Amaryllis, with its flamboyant trumpet-shaped blooms, is another favorite heralding the holiday season. Amaryllis is a tender bulb that will bloom year after year, given proper handling, so you can easily find a variety of blooms to compliment your home decor.

To plant, place the bulb in light, rich soil in a pot only one or two inches large in diameter than the bulb; leave the upper half of the bulb exposed. Water thoroughly, but wait to water again until the soil becomes dry. Meanwhile, place the plant in a warm, sunny spot until the flower buds appear. Move out of direct sunlight and water as often as the soil becomes dry.

After the bloom is spent, cut off the flowers and stem close to the base of the pant, place into bright light, and water as before. Move containers outside during the summer, placing them in bright, indirect light; water when dry. In August, bring the plants indoors, place in a dark location and withhold water. In October, bring the plants into the light, begin watering and you’ll have blooms next holiday season.

by Reba Gilliand

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