The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Holiday Plant Care

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

As you are hustling about this time of year don't forget your holiday plants. By following a few general guidelines they won't be food for the compost pile before their time. Plus this time of year it's even more important to stop and smell the poinsettias.

Most holiday plants appreciate bright light. Place plants in a sunny window or well-lighted area, but out of direct light. Avoid cold or warm drafts. When entertaining, move the plants to a decorative spot then return plants to the best spot for their survival.

Check soil moisture daily. Keep flowering plants evenly moist. The soil may dry quickly because of our dry winter homes. Replace foil covers with a decorative pot to make watering easier.

Flowering plants are usually sold potted in a peat moss soilless mix. It is difficult to wet once it dries and the water may roll right off the rootball. If the water immediately runs out of the pot at watering time, the plant may have dried too much. Place the pot in a pan or sink of warm water to soak for about an hour then remove. No fertilizer is necessary until after flowering

Poinsettias are traditional holiday flowers with brightly colored flower bracts. Insufficient water will cause the lower leaves of the poinsettia to wilt and drop. Too much water will cause the lower leaves to yellow and drop. Either way, it's not good. Check out our website for more information http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/poinsettia/

Cyclamens are known for their attractive foliage as well as flowers. The flowers, which can last 2 to 3 months, hover above the foliage like butterflies of pink, red or white. The leaves are dark green with silver markings. Generally cyclamen are sold in flower with many developing buds.

To maximize the cyclamen's flowering period, give the plant bright light such as an east window and cool conditions with 50–55°F at night and 60–65°F during the day.

Cyclamens also appreciate high humidity. To increase the humidity around the plants fill a shallow pan with pebbles and fill with water. Set the cyclamen on an inverted dish just above the water line. Cyclamens also need plenty of water in the soil and good drainage. Cyclamens are not very forgiving if they dry out even once. Don't apply water to the crown of the plant. If the leaves turn yellow or the buds fail to open, the problem could be hot dry atmosphere, lack of water or insufficient light.

Azalea flowers will also last longer if they are kept in a cool spot. Never let the soil dry out or the flowers may quickly wilt and fall off. Azaleas are tough to keep year after year. Florist's azaleas are not winter hardy here.

Amaryllis can be purchased at any stage of development -- from a single bulb all the way to the "puffy bud" stage. One third of the bulb (the "nose") should be above the soil line. Place it in a sunny, warm location and watch the leaves and flower stem elongate. High light intensities and turning the pot daily will help ensure the leaves and flower stems do not stretch and topple over.

Most of the plants sold as Christmas cactus are actually Thanksgiving cactus. Despite their cactus name, both should be kept evenly moist while in flower. High temperatures or excessive drying will cause the flowers to wilt and drop. Christmas cactus are one of the easiest holiday plants to rebloom next year, but plan on them as Thanksgiving guests. Give us a call at (217) 333-7672 for a fact sheet on reblooming Christmas cactus.

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