Several traditional holiday plants make their appearance in your local retail markets this time of year. If you’re looking for a gift plant or a decorating accent, there are many from which to choose.
Poinsettias are common and form the core of traditional holiday decorating. Others, such as the Christmas cactus, amaryllis and paperwhites are much less common but offer great holiday decorating and gifting ideas.
Poinsettias are the most popular plant of the holiday season. Their bright reds, pinks and whites add holiday cheer. The current trend includes dyed poinsettias, so it is possible to find them in many more unusual colors, sprinkled with glitter and bowed and wrapped for additional holiday pizzazz. Poinsettias are not toxic if ingested; however, their milky sap can cause allergic reactions in sensitive people.
Poinsettias are relatively easy to care for. They should be watered when the top layer of soil begins to dry and never be allowed to sit in water. Poinsettias should also be placed near a sunny window, but away from drafts. The optimal temperature for poinsettias is 65 to 70°F. A temperature any lower than 60°F may cause leaves to drop. You should take great care in bringing your poinsettia home, because even just a short exposure to cold temperatures can cause trouble.
The amaryllis is a popular holiday bulb that should be planted approximately six weeks prior to desired bloom time. Amaryllis prefer to be pot bound, so a container about one inch larger than the bulb on all sides should be selected. Place the bulb on moist soil rich in organic matter, and cover so that the top half to one-third of the bulb is above the soil. Water sparingly when soil is dry to the touch. Keep the plant in a warm room (65-70°F) to encourage an early bloom. Move the blooming plant to a cooler location (55-65°F) to lengthen bloom time. Amaryllis prefer bright, indirect sunlight, away from drafts.
The Christmas cactus has little in common with the cacti of the desert. These plants, native to Central and South America, actually grow more like orchids and should be treated as such. They prefer to be planted in a light and airy soil mix. Water when the top inch of soil in the pot becomes dry. Purchase plants with many buds and a few open blooms, and place in draft-free, indirect bright light.
Paperwhites are a type of narcissus and resemble their relatives, the daffodils. These bulbs need no pre-treatment and can be planted as soon as you bring them home. Place the bulbs close together, nearly touching each other, with their pointed end up. Add more potting soil to hold them in place, leaving the top half of the bulbs uncovered. Water thoroughly and often enough to keep moist. After planting, the pot or dish should be placed in a cool area to allow the roots to develop, and then moved to a warmer area. Paperwhites may become tall and require staking to keep from falling over. Flowers are usually white or white with orange centers and have a strong musky smell. Paperwhite blooms will last from four to eight weeks. They bloom only once, and when done, should be discarded.