What do you do with your holiday plants now that holiday festivities have ended and the decorations are put away—toss them, or give them new life as house plants? It is possible—with varying degrees of difficulty—to maintain Amaryllis, Christmas cactus, and Poinsettias for years of enjoyment.
The Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) is a bulb from tropical South America. Your Amaryllis were forced to bloom indoors during the holidays, and although it is easy to keep them for years, their rebloom time is likely to be after the holidays, unless you provide a sufficient cooling period.
- While in bloom, keep the plant in a well-lighted area, out of direct sunlight.
- Turn the plant ¼ turn every few days to maintain upright flower stalks.
- Fertilize weekly with a liquid fertilizer, such as 10-10-10.
- After the flowers fade, cut off the flower stalk 1 to 2 inches above the bulb nose, taking care not to damage the bulb or foliage. Those leaves manufacture the food to replenish reserves expended during the bloom cycle!
- Place the plant in a sunny window—ideally a Southern exposure.
- Water only when the soil surface is nearly dry.
- Avoid watering the bulb nose, which can cause disease or rot.
- In Western North Carolina you can place the plants outdoors after the danger of frost has passed (usually around Mother’s Day).
- Place the entire pot in an area with part to full sun.
- Fertilize the bulb 2-3 times per month with a complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10.
- Provide supplemental water as needed during the summer to prevent the bulb from getting excessively dry.
- In fall, bring plant in before first frost!
- At least 3 months before you want your bulb to bloom, withhold water and place it in a cool storage or growing location for 8 to10 weeks at 55ºF. It is not necessary for the plant to go dormant.
- After this cool period, move the plant to a warm, 70 to 75º area with bright light.
- Keep it moist, but not wet, and the new flower stalk and leaves should emerge in a few weeks!
Holiday cacti (Schumbergera spp.) can live over 100 years and are native to Brazilian rain forests. There are actually two species sold as holiday cactus: Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata), and Christmas cactus (S. x buckleyi)—many plants sold as Christmas cactus are actually Thanksgiving cactus! To identify: Thanksgiving cactus’ flattened stem segments—phylloclades—have 2- to 4- saw-toothed serrations; these projections are more rounded on Christmas cactus.
- Place plant in a cool, bright window.
- Fertilize with a liquid low nitrogen fertilizer from fall to September (such as 0-15-10) and a balanced fertilizer (such as 20-20-20) from June through August for best flower production.
- Holiday cactus bloom well when pot bound. Repot only every three years in spring.
- Use a potting mix with good drainage, such as 20 to 40% Perlite.
- Water when soil is dry to the touch. Drain plant saucers to avoid bud drop and root rot! Plants tolerate drier conditions in spring and summer.
- Keep temperatures as close to 68° F as possible for maximum flower production. Plants grown with night temperatures between 50 and 59º F will set flower buds regardless of day length, but at 50º F growth will be slower and bud drop may occur.
- Bud set is best initiated in the middle of September when there are fourteen or more hours of continuous darkness. At this time, pinch back any terminal stem segments less than 1 cm (0.4 inch) long to make all stems about the same length.
- Provide even moisture.
- Prune after blooming by shortening long stems, preferably to where two leaves emerge from a single leaf—if this seems too drastic because you have not pruned before, remove half the length of long stems.
Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are native to Mexico. Their colorful bracts are actually modified leaves—the small yellow cyathia in the center of the bracts are the true flowers!
- Place plant in bright light.
- Provide even moisture. To avoid leaf drop, don’t let the soil dry out. Remove decorative foils or wraps to promote better drainage.
- Moderate temperature—daytime temperatures from 70 to 75° F and nighttime temps from 60 to 65—are ideal. Avoid placing on cold windowsills, in drafty areas, or near heat vents! Temperatures below 55 or above 75° F or can damage plants.
Once the bracts start to fade, you may want to toss your poinsettia and buy a new one next year. You can go halfway and move your poinsettia out into a sunny spot in your landscape and treat like you would an annual. It won’t develop the colored bracts, but you will have enjoyed it until next fall!
If you are motivated, you can enjoy your poinsettia next holiday season. Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor, University of Vermont, has a clever way to remember when to provide extra attention to your poinsettia that ties the care schedule to holidays throughout the year. See: https://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/poinsett.htm
Article by Barbara Hayes, Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer.
NC CES Horticulture Information Leaflet:
Home Forcing of Potted Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)
Christmas cactus (Holiday cacti)
Clemson University HGIC Factsheet 1554 11/29/18
University of Minnesota Extension