Master Gardener: Extending the life of holiday plants

The poinsettia is still the most popular holiday plant, and I have written several articles about this holiday favorite. Now that our children have families of their own, they give Connie and I gift certificates, which we appreciate. There was a time when we were always given poinsettias, and we made the same mistake so many others did. When the leaves fell off, we just threw the plant out.

Jerry Vitalis

Jerry Vitalis

Now we let them go dormant, put them outside during the summer and bring them down the basement before a killing frost.  Then I start watering them and the cycle begins again. We have some plants that are eight years old, but we have not been able to have them bloom again. However, sometimes the leaves have changed from green to red.

Melinda Myers wrote an article in the Star Tribune on helping your holiday plants. One of her favorite is the cyclamen, and some of them with variegated foliage look frosted. Melinda said that after the holidays you can set them in the dark and let them go dormant — that would trigger them back to growth.

Of course, the Holiday Cactus or “Christmas” cactus is a long held tradition. The genus ‘ Schlumbergera’ is actually a native of Brazil. We’ve heard many stories from people who’ve been handed down these plants from relatives, and they live for decades. It can spend most of its time in a cooler basement area near a window. When the days get shorter and the nights are longer, that’s when it begins to put on dozens of buds and a few weeks later, when it’s in full bloom, bring it up to the living room to show it off.

A favorite houseplant is the Norfolk Island Pine. It is not a true pine, but it just looks like one and it gets its name from Norfolk Island, a small island in the Pacific between Australia, New Zealand and Caledonia. In its native habitat it can grow up to 200 feet tall. As a houseplant, it will grow to be three to six feet tall, but it will take several years to attain that height.

Lack of sufficient moisture in the air will cause browning, needle drop, and eventually the lower branches will die off. Brown tips will never turn back to green, and the only pruning that should be done is snipping off brown tips and dead branches. Norfolks resent replanting so they should only be repotted every three to four years in the spring. Water thoroughly before potting and use a fast-draining, sterile, commercial potting soil mix.

If you use it as a Christmas tree, be sure the soil is kept moist during the time the tree is decorated. Electric lights have a severe drying effect on plants, so don’t leave the decorations on too long.

Visit this University of Minnesota Website for more information on caring for holiday plants:  http://blog.lib.umn.edu/efans/ygnews/2009/12/cool-plants-for-the-holidays.html.

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