In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
December, 2008
Regional Report

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Holiday cacti can become everlasting flowering plants with proper care.

Tips for Keeping Flowering Plants Beyond the Holidays

There's no doubt about it: living, flowering, and colorful houseplants are always welcome during the holiday season. Unlike artificial ones, living plants also improve the indoor environment and will keep on giving. You just have to give them some attention and proper care.
Poinsettias, Christmas cacti, kalanchoes, amaryllis bulbs, paper whites, and cyclamens are just a few of the popular plants that you can give or receive at this time of year.

Poinsettias
The poinsettia is perhaps the most popular plant of the season. And it's not the flowers that make this plant colorful, but rather the modified leaves, called bracts. The yellowish-green buttons in the center of the colorful bracts are the real flowers. When purchasing poinsettias, look for plants whose flowers are just opening or somewhat tight. This will ensure that the plant is still fresh and has not been on the sales table for a lengthy time. The leaves should be a healthy green and not droopy. Protect your poinsettia from getting chilled by wrapping or otherwise protecting it as you carry it to and from your (heated) car. It only takes a brief exposure to frigid outdoor air for the plant to react and drop it leaves and bracts after you bring it home.

Place the poinsettia in a bright spot, but not in direct sun. Avoid heat sources such as near fireplaces, heating vents, or the top of the television set. Water the potting mix when it feels dry to the touch; poinsettias will not tolerate soggy roots. Since poinsettias have been well fertilized in the greenhouse, you won't need to fertilize until after the first of the year.

Holiday Cacti
Holiday cacti, Zygocactus and Schlumbergera, come from a tropical environment where they thrive in the canopy of jungle foliage. They prefer a well lit location, but don't require full sun. Keep the soil moderately moist; allowing it to dry out slightly between waterings. Apply a complete houseplant fertilizer with numbers such as 15-30-15 every three to four weeks. To get your plant to flower in future years keep the plant in filtered light, a cool location, and where the nights are not interrupted by lights. It will set buds and prepare for another fall and winter display.

Cyclamen
Cyclamen are among my favorite winter plants. The delicate flowers resemble orchids, thus its nickname, poor man's orchid. Keep the plant in a cool environment for inducing and maintaining blooms. Like the Christmas cactus it likes filtered, bright light, and cool temperatures. It grows from a bulbous corm and should be watered at the potting soil's edge to avoid wetting the crown. Fertilize with a half-strength soluble plant food every two to three weeks. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and drain away excess water in the drainage saucer. If it is placed where it is too hot, the life span of the flowers will be shortened.

During the summer, it is common for the cyclamen to go dormant. The foliage will begin to die back and you can reduce watering. Store in a cool, dark place and keep minimally moist. Then, in later summer you can re-pot the corm and return to filtered light to start the re-growth and flower development.

The right amount of water, proper light conditions, and occasional fertilizing can keep your holiday plants growing for many years to come. Enjoy the colorful blooming plants of the season and share some with good friends.


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