The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Beyond Poinsettias: Alternative Holiday Plants

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator
slmason@illinois.edu

With all due respect to Mr. Poinsett, not everybody likes poinsettias. I have often pondered the usefulness of a poinsettia that would automatically disintegrate on January 15. I must admit the urge to give my poinsettia a tour of the compost pile has weakened with all the new poinsettia colors and flower shapes available.

If you are also looking to go beyond poinsettias for the holly days, there are plenty of choices.

First some basic guidelines to keep holly day plants happy:

  • Place plants in a sunny window or well-lighted area, but out of direct sunlight.
  • Avoid cold or warm drafts.
  • When you are entertaining, move plants temporarily to a decorative spot.
  • Check soil moisture daily. Keep flowering plants evenly moist. Overly dry soil may cause flowers to drop off. Flowering plants are generally not very forgiving. The plant may recover but the flowers are goners.
  • Replace foil covers with a decorative pot to make watering easier. Do not leave water standing in pots for more than an hour. Soilless mixes are difficult to wet once they dry. If the water immediately runs out of the pot after watering, the plant may have dried too much. Place the pot in a pan or sink of warm water to soak for about an hour.

Going beyond poinsettias includes pre-decorated miniature evergreen trees. Several different species of evergreens may come as decorated trees. Dwarf Alberta Spruce are hardy and can eventually be planted outside. These spruces are densely conical with small needles.

Norfolk Island Pine looks like a traditional pine with layers of branches. These are houseplants and will not live outside during the winter. Norfolk Island Pines are very unforgiving if they dry out too much. They will show their displeasure with a multitude of brown needles. Spider mites can be a problem on Norfolks and Dwarf Albertas. Both are best kept indoors on the cool side at 65 degrees F.

Amaryllis are magnificent tropical looking bulbs that can easily be kept year after year. The bigger the bulb the more flowers produced. It usually takes 4-6 weeks for flowers to form after planting the bulb. Amaryllis need high light and a periodic turn of the pot to keep them from flopping to one side.

Cyclamens are a popular winter flowering plant 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. To maximize cyclamen's flowering period, give the plant bright light such as an east window and cool conditions with 50 to 55 degrees F at night and 60 to 65 degrees F during the day.

Cyclamens also appreciate high humidity. Fill a shallow pan with pebbles and water. Set the cyclamen on an inverted dish just above the water line. Cyclamens need evenly moist soil. Keep water off 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. Have you picked up on the trend here? Azaleas are tough to keep year after year. Florists azaleas are not winter hardy here.

Most of the plants sold as Christmas cactus are actually Thanksgiving cactus. 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. For more information call,217-333-7672 or check out http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/poinsettia/index.html

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