My grandmother had great advice for her customers who wanted information on how to keep their Christmas plants growing. Her advice was simple, throw the poinsettia out. Over the years, poinsettias have changed. These plants now come in a variety of textures and colors. Even though the plants have been updated, my grandmother’s advice has not. Throwing out your poinsettias should be part of putting away your christmas decorations. That about wraps up holiday gift-plant Tip Number 1, in answer to the most popular midwinter plant question of all: “How do I care for my poinsettia and make it rebloom?”
Now Christmas Cactus are another story altogether. My sister in law Kelly has had one plant for more than 20 years, it’s a family hand-me-down. The plant’s requirements are simple: Though its name says “cactus,” this isn’t some desert creature inclined toward basking in the blazing hot sun, but rather a tropical forest native and an epiphyte at that (a plant that in its native habitat doesn’t grow in soil at all but nested up in trees). Bright indirect light is fine but full sun will burn its tissue, which sometimes reddens up first, as if slightly sunburned, like it’s trying to warn you are getting close to the danger zone.
No drafty spots for Christmas cactus either. Don’t put them up against a winter window and definitely not up on radiators (and really, what plant likes either one of those conditions?). The good news is that Christmas cactus can withstand low temperatures down to the 40s.
As with many plants, it’s spare the rod and spoil the child with these guys; a little discipline works wonders (amaryllis and Clivia are two others that like tough love). I let my Christmas cactus go dry in late summer for a month or so around August, then start watering again sparingly in mid-September. In September these plants also appreciate one or both of two additional triggers for flowering –14 hours of nightly darkness and/or cooler temperatures–to set the best blooms. The best way to ensure the 14 hours of light is to place the Christmas cactus in a room where you won’t be using artificial lighting at night. The lazy-person’s method (mine) of drying it off in August and giving it a cooler spot thereafter, seems to work just fine. In spring and summer, it’s the usual houseplant routine: feed and water regularly.
One more quick tip: Don’t jostle your Christmas cactus around, especially during bud-setting time. Jostling can also cause the plant to drop those fleshy leaves, not just flower buds. You may have learned this the hard way when you first brought your Christmas cactus home. They often sulk, and can drop their flower buds.
Kalanchoe are one of the few holiday plants I know anyone can keep growing. Kalanchoe naturally responds to the shorter day length that we experience around October which makes this plant a good winter bloomer even without much special help. Kalanchoe have big, flat, succulent type leaves that give you a hint to not over water them, ever: Allow them to dry between waterings, and grow them in a well-drained potting mix like Farfards Container Mix. Kalanchoe are sun-lovers, so the brightest spot you can offer will be appreciated.
One more detail here: This plant needs about 12 weeks of nights that are longer than the days to come into bloom. If you are determined to have blooms for Christmas, make sure the Kalanchoes aren’t in a room that will receive any artificial light. If blocking light is a problem, don’t worry, just know that your show of blooms will be January.
So you want to hold on to your paperwhite bulbs to either plant them outside or hold them to try again to force next fall? Nope, they are garbage and need to be tossed into the garbage, as they won’t bloom again. Channel your inner Elsa and Let Them Go!
My grandmother had the most amazing collection of Amaryllis. She would “rest” her bulbs for two months or so each fall. From September to November or thereabouts, she would tip them all over, pots and all, down on my grandfathers workbench in the basement. They got almost no light and absolutely no water. Sometime in late November she’d send my grandfather downstairs to get them. She’d water them well, place them in a bright window and then wait. Usually they’d be in color for Christmas or soon thereafter. Amaryllis won’t do much of anything or your schedule, they are notorious for ignoring all of my scheduling tactics and seem to flower whenever it’s convenient for them. Fortunately, I love their huge bright blooms in the winter so I tolerate their resistance to my scheduling.
A final amaryllis detail: Don’t overpot them. They are fine with a container perhaps an inch bigger than the bulb around in all directions.
Still determined to nurse that poinsettia along in your office or home? I admire your determination and grit – but know that some things just aren’t meant to be recycled and are just better as fond memories.
Hoping you are all safe and warm this February!
Michelle and Team Lakeview