Those Bloomin' Holiday Gifts
By: Charlie Nardozzi
At the holidays, I like to give and receive flowering houseplants. Weeks later, however, after the fruitcakes and candy-canes are gone, these once-gorgeous gifts often struggle to survive, much less to bloom. So here's a seasonal-care guide that will keep those gift plants looking their best year-round.
Gift-Plant Care Rebloom Ratings
Some holiday plants stay healthy and flower well all year, but others are difficult to grow. Some types are best left to nurseries, and certain plants just won't survive after flowering. I rate plants as easy, moderate, or difficult to make bloom again. An ″easy″ rating is just that: You can hardly stop the plants from re-blooming, though they may bloom unexpectedly, because your gift may have been forced to bloom for holiday sale. ″Moderate″ means that if you adjust the growing environment, re-bloom is certain. A ″Difficult″ rating means a plant requires daily adjustments to light and temperature, and even then it may not flower. Before we explore the requirements of each plant, however, let's review the care of indoor plants.
One reason plants fail to bloom and thrive is excessive watering. Most flowering houseplants require moist, but not wet, soil. Saturate the soil with room-temperature water in the morning. This allows inadvertently moistened foliage to dry quickly and so prevents leaf diseases. Cold water shocks plants and damages African violets' leaves.
If water drains out immediately, the plant is rootbound, and the rootball may be dry and compacted. To revive the plant, submerge the whole pot in a tub of water to soak the rootball. If the water takes more than five minutes to drain, the drainage holes may be clogged or the soil mix too heavy. Repot with fast-draining soilless potting mix.
Water plants like cyclamens and African violets from the bottom. Place pots in a tray of water, and let the soil naturally soak up the water. However, once the soil is saturated, don't leave the pots in the water. Excessively soaked soil may lead to root rot.
Turn on the Lights
Flowering houseplants often don't rebloom because of insufficient intensity of (and length of exposure to) light, especially in winter. Without adequate light, plants will become leggy, and they won't flower. Provide optimal light in winter, especially in regions north of the 38-degree latitude line roughly from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. In these regions, place plants in a south-facing window with filtered sunlight. Move the plants back to their usual location by March. In the southern half of the country, keep plants in their preferred locations year-round. However, in both regions, if you notice leggy growth and few flowers, consider placing the plants under full-spectrum grow lights.
Indoor temperatures of 55 to 70 degrees F. are usually adequate for most flowering houseplants, though tropical emigrants such as holiday cactus and gardenia need cooler temperatures (60 to 65 degrees F.) to set buds. However, avoid placing plants near drafty doors, uninsulated windows, and heat sources.