Gardening Tips: December 28, 2011

Care of Holiday Gift Plants
I hope you were lucky enough to receive a pretty plant as a holiday gift this past week. The outdoor landscape is getting a bit dreary already as we end the year 2011. The good news is that every day now will have more minutes of daylight than the day before, from now until June 21! Even confirmed atheists can celebrate the winter solstice as it has been practiced since before Christianity. Remember that all holiday gift plants are meant to be enjoyed as a prominent part of your décor for as long as they look good. Whether or not they live for many years depends partly upon the plant and partly upon how well you take care of it. Some plants are really not meant to last more than a few days to a few weeks.

For example, any arrangement that contains cut flowers will only last a week or two at best. It is important to make sure that cut flowers remain in clean water to maximize their longevity. Every few days you should remove the flowers and replace the water in the vase with clean, warm water.

Make a fresh cut on the flower stems about an inch above the base, preferably while the stem is underwater before returning them to the vase. Remove any leaves that might be sitting in the water as you do this. If you put the arrangement in a cool room overnight the flowers will last even longer.
Other flowers that will not last forever include potted bulbs such as tulips, Paperwhite narcissus, daffodils or crocus. If you want to keep the bulbs for replanting outside you should keep the plant watered and fertilized until the leaves turn yellow on their own. This will take several weeks at least and possibly a month or more. Allow the soil to dry out completely after the leaves fade and store the dried bulb until this September when it may be planted outside.

More flowering plants
A couple of other flowering plants that don’t usually survive the winter are chrysanthemums and cyclamen. I know that some talented gardeners are able to reflower their cyclamen plants but they rarely look as good as the first time they are forced. Cyclamen prefer cool temperatures indoors and will thrive in a room that is 50 degrees. Mums sometimes survive the holidays if kept in a sunny window. Cut the stems back to four or five inches after the flowers fade and water them only when the soil surface dries out. Mums may be replanted outside in the early spring. With luck they may reflower for you outdoors this September.

Poinsettias do not require any special care other then avoiding cold or hot drafts or overwatering. Water them only when the soil dries out to a depth of a half inch or so. Remove the foil to test the soil moisture with your thumb. They are quite content to sit on a table in the kitchen at 65 to 70 degrees and they don’t need much or any direct sunlight. Most Poinsettias will hold their colorful bracts for weeks or even months. If they suddenly seem to start shedding white confetti whenever they are moved, you might need to treat them for whiteflies, which could infest some of your other houseplants. Contrary to popular belief the Poinsettia is not poisonous to humans or pets. They can be replanted outdoors in May and will grow all summer long but will not survive our winter. In Florida, where my kids live, Poinsettias grow wild as perennials but they hardly resemble the beautiful specimens we enjoy as gift plants.

Finally we have the plants that make wonderful, long-lived houseplants. These would include Amaryllis, African violets, Xmas cactus, any type of foliage plant and Norfolk Island Pine, which makes a great indoor Xmas tree! Norfolk Island pines should never have their top pruned back as this is their growing point and they will die if headed back.