Holiday plants as gifts

When I was teaching in Minneapolis, it was easy to give gifts to the people who had everything. I gave them items from my garden or things that were produced in the area, such as pickles, raspberry jam, maple syrup, apples, etc. However, it was important to know what they liked or could eat. Giving plants as holiday gifts is similar because you need to know something about the plant as well as the one who is receiving it.
The Norfolk Island pine is a popular houseplant that can also be used as a tabletop Christmas tree. Keep in a sunny window and allow the soil to dry a little between thorough watering. Use tiny, lightweight decorations, including lights that don’t give off much heat. Two of the most common problems these plants face indoors are browning needles and lower leaves that droop. This usually can be attributed to hot, dry air, low humidity, or allowing the soil to dry excessively between watering. Too much fertilizer can contribute to needle drop and branch loss. During the winter, ideal night temperatures for Norfolk Island pines range from 50 to 60 degrees with daytime temperatures only about 5 degrees higher.
The most popular holiday plant is the poinsettia. Place near a sunny window, as they need at least six hours a day of natural daylight. Be sure to avoid placing the plant near drafts, fluctuating air currents, excess heat and dry air from appliances, and fireplace or ventilating ducts. Water just enough so that the water barely begins to seep through the holes at the bottom. Be sure to discard any excess water, as poinsettias left sitting in water may suffer from permanent root-rot damage. It is not necessary to fertilize your poinsettias when they are in bloom during the holiday season. However, after six to eight weeks, a balanced, all-purpose household plant fertilizer mixed one-half strength will help maintain a rich, green color and promote new growth. Repeat once more in another six weeks. Around 1919, a false tale circulated that poinsettias were poisonous. Ohio State University disproved the charge, stating that while they are not harmful to humans and animals, all ornamental plants are not intended for human or animal consumption.
If your gift is a Christmas cactus that is in full bloom, you must realize that from late September through mid-November, it had at least 12 hours of darkness each day to prepare for holiday blooming. Christmas cacti don’t resemble the plants that we call cactus. The flowers droop from leaf-like stems, making them ideal subjects for hanging baskets. Unlike the common poinsettia, a Christmas cactus can be nearly as unique as its owner. You can choose from among more than 65 varieties, as well as a variety of colors. The plant can also be extremely long lived. Although its average life span is two to five years, it’s not uncommon for them to last up to 15 years or more. The ideal temperature range is 55 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the flowering time and from 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the rest period. During flowering and active growth, water liberally when soil dries out. Use softened water or rainwater if your tap water is too hard. Allow plants to stay on the dry side during the rest period, which follows bloom and lasts about eight weeks. Remember that when you want your Christmas cactus to bloom, you need to think about six weeks ahead.
Now that you know more about these holiday plants, be sure to match them up with their possible new owners.

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