From the Ground Up: The other holiday plants

Published 2:02 pm Thursday, December 30, 2021

For many people, the holiday season means evergreen garlands, wreaths, trees and poinsettias. Yes, the tropical plant with showy multicolored petals (actually bracts) is the number one choice for home decorating and gift giving. Indeed, more than 35 million are sold in the six- week period before Christmas. Just like our favorite holiday movies, poinsettias are classics loved by just about everyone. They’re perfect for decorating many types of spaces and for gift giving.

If, however, you’d like to explore different options, there are plenty of other plants available. While not directly associated with fall holidays, orchids are increasingly popular for home decorations and gift giving. Both white cattleyas and phalaenopsis make stunning table decorations, and, if cared for properly, the blooms will last for several months. Orchid flowers look fragile but are actually quite tough. To keep your plants in top condition, place them in a location with bright, indirect light and no drafts. Water the plants when the growing medium feels dry; just let water run through the pots and allow them to drain completely. Remove spent blooms and apply half strength fertilizer in spring and summer. Don’t be surprised if your orchids bloom again.

The cyclamen, with its deep red, white or pink flowers and multicolored foliage, is another choice for the holidays. It’s a cool season plant that often remains in bloom for several months. Place it in a cool, draft-free location with medium diffused light. Water it from the base by setting the pot in a saucer of water for a minute and then draining the pot. The cyclamen is difficult to rebloom, so at the end of the holidays, just toss this plant. No guilt.

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And then there is the amaryllis, which produces deep red, pink, white or even salmon-colored flowers in both single and double forms. There are even flowers with stripes. Kits containing a giant bulb, pot and growing medium are popular gifts. Within a few weeks, the recipient should have a tall bloom spike with multiple giant blooms. Place the amaryllis in an area with bright light and give the pot a quarter turn every day so that the bloom spike will grow straight. Amaryllis plants are worth keeping after the holidays. Remove the spent bloom spike and continue to water the plant; place it outdoors after the danger of frost has passed. Water and fertilize the plant all summer; in early fall, bring the plant indoors, withhold water and place it in a completely dark area for six weeks. At the end of this period of dormancy, the amaryllis should be ready to bloom again.

Paper white narcissus are another lovely do-it-yourself gift. There’s nothing like their fragrance on a cold, gloomy January day. After they’ve finished blooming, just toss them, as they won’t bloom again.

And if you really must have a poinsettia for the holidays, select one that isn’t shedding pollen, a sign that the blooms are past their peak. To provide proper drainage, poke holes in the foil covering the bottom of the pot, and water the plant before it becomes completely dry. Make sure no water remains in the decorative foil. Toss or save? It’s your choice, but poinsettias are difficult to get to rebloom.

Happy gardening in the new year!