Did you get an extra-special living gift for Christmas? If it was a puppy, then head to the pet store. But if it was a Christmas bloomer, then head to the kitchen. Poinsettia and amaryllis are popular. Other plants like the Christmas cactus can last all year long. The trick is keeping them alive.
One of my favorite Christmas bloomers is the Schlumbergera hybrid start I got from a barber in Bedford Township a few years ago. His plant is decades old and I am carrying on his family tradition with a Christmas cactus. I've shared it with my sisters and mother and the little sprouts are thriving.
The flat legs of the cactus stems are interesting and pretty all year long. But to get them to bloom in the winter, you have to trick the plant a little. Keep it in the bright sun during the hot summer months. Once the evening temperatures cool off into the 40 degree range, it is time to bring it inside. Let the cactus dry out and stay in a room that gets dark after the sun goes down. This will tell the plant that it is time to go dormant.
You will see the ends of the stem start to swell. That's where the blooms sprout. Put the Christmas cactus in a sunny window away from any drafts or high heat.
The beautiful horn-shaped blossoms of the amaryllis bulbs are a welcome and cheerful gift for anyone. They can brighten up any room, even in low light situations. They come in many colors, from bright red, to white and plenty of shades in between. The simple kits available at many stores make it really easy to just add water and watch them start to bloom.
Keep the bulb lightly moist, not too wet while it is actively growing. Usually, each bulb will sprout two flowers. And once they start to wilt away, you can cut them off. Keep the stalks fed for a few months, and the bulb will continue to grow strong.
You can get it to bloom again next winter. Just let it dry out in the summer so it will go dormant Set it in a dark, dry place until mid October. Put it in fresh potting soil and start watering it again about six to eight weeks before you want it to bloom. Move it into a sunny window once you see it start to bloom and start giving it a bit of fertilizer.
Many people think a poinsettia is poisonous, but research at Ohio State University says no. Toxicity tests were done on the plant back in 1971 and showed no ill effects when unusually high doses were fed to rats. But I don't think I would add it to the family's salad greens just yet because they could be a bit tough to digest.
They like to be in a warm room between 60 to 70 degrees and out of any drafts. They can also become a bit chilly if their leaves touch a cold window. They should be evenly moist; not too wet and not too dry. Your poinsettia will start to drop its leaves if it gets too much of a good thing.
By February, the flower in the center of the plant will start to grow up and out. The plant is getting ready to be cut back. Get your scissors out in March. You can cut the stems down to six inches long. More leaves will start to sprout right where it has been pruned. Keep two to three leaves on each stem so the plant can collect light and feed itself. Leave it in a sunny window in your house and fertilize it every two weeks.
In the summer, put your poinsettia plant in a bigger pot if it seems crowded and set it outside. One trick is to sink it down in a soft spot in your garden, pot and all. If the pot has holes in the bottom, the plant will take up moisture from below and it will also get nature's rain and sun for a few months.
Sit down and enjoy those blooms and start working on those New Year's Resolutions. Send them to me on Facebook or email and we can make some plans together.
Contact Kelly Heidbreder at email@example.com.