It is hard to believe that Christmas is in just a few short weeks. I love decorating for the holidays and many plants are great holiday decorations.
Poinsettias are a wonderful plant for the holiday. The traditional poinsettia is red, but newer varieties can be found in white, pink, peach, yellow, and marbled or speckled colors. The colored portion of the poinsettia is actually a bract, or a modified leaf, not a flower. The flowers are the tiny yellow parts in the center of the colored bracts.
If you plan to keep the poinsettia for next year, starting in late September or early October, place the plant in a room of complete darkness or closet from 5pm to 8am daily. Once the bracts begin to show color on them, in December, you can bring them out of the darkness to enjoy through the holidays.
Christmas cactus is another plant for the holidays. There are actually 3 different cacti that are used for different holidays based on their bloom period which include Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, and Easter cactus. The difference between the three cacti is found in the shape of the leaves. The Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumgera truncata) has very pointed and claw shaped projections on the edges of the leaf. The Christmas cactus (Schlumgera bridgesti) has leaf projections which are more scalloped or tear drop shaped. The Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertnerrii) has very rounded edges which are centralized on the leaf.
The timing for blooms can be managed by light prior to the holiday. To get a Christmas cactus to bloom on time, place the plant in total darkness for 12-24 hours per day starting 6 weeks ahead of Christmas or around November 13th. They also need to be kept in cooler temperatures during this dark period. They may bloom again in the spring, but bloom more abundantly in the winter after their cool/dark period.
Holiday Plant Care
When we purchase holiday plants, care begins in the store where you purchase them. The first thing you need to do for the best health of those plants is to ensure that they are covered up with plastic as you bring them out to your car from the store and from your car to your home. Wind is very common in Nebraska and exposure to cold temperatures and wind can damage the leaves, flowers or bracts. When you get them home, you should take the plastic off the plant and be sure to keep the plant watered. Push into the soil to determine the dampness, if it is dry the plants should be watered. Keep the plant in a pot with drainage holes and remove the decorative wrapping from the pot when you get it home to allow for more drainage.
Place the plant in a location with bright light but not direct sunlight. Don’t place the plant in a location near the door where outside drafts will commonly hit it. Also, avoid locations in the home that are near heating vents which will dry out the plant quickly.
Both Christmas cactus and Poinsettias can be kept and enjoyed through the whole year to rebloom again next year. Treat them as a normal houseplant through the rest of the year and remember to put them into darkness next fall for best coloration and blooming next holiday season. This will help you enjoy your holiday plants for the whole holiday season and then some. Have a Happy Holiday Season!