by Carl Wilson
Three plants commonly gifted or purchased over the holidays are Christmas cactus, Norfolk Island pine and poinsettia. What can be done with them in the following months?
Christmas cactus comes in tropical colors of salmon, pink, violet, red and more. They grow best in bright but not direct sunlight. Soil should be kept moist during flowering and fertilize weekly. When flowers finish, continue with watering and fertilization. Plants perform best when roots are pot-bound. Do go ahead and repot in the spring if the plant has been in the same pot for many years and isn’t blooming well. They can be kept outside or inside in summer. Bring indoors in fall, cut back on water and don’t fertilize during the rest period. From September on, plants are triggered into bloom by a combination of short days and cool nights (60 degrees F and under). Once buds appear and flowering progresses, temperatures and day length no longer matter. Gradually increase water and then fertilize weekly after buds develop.
Norfolk Island pine are often sold as “mini” Christmas trees. They are a tropical tree that requires less water than other common houseplants. Fertilize only occasionally (every 4 to 6 months), keep them out of direct sunlight, and apply only enough water to allow some to drain out of the bottom of the container. Discard the excess water and don’t allow the plant to stand in water in a saucer. Given the right environment, they can be a long-lasting houseplant. Repot only every three to four years in commercial potting soil.
Poinsettias do best in the sunniest part of the home, and need bright light to ensure proper growth. Avoid placing a poinsettia near cold drafts, radiators and heat vents. To keep the color of the flower bracts bright, maintain your poinsettia between 50 and 70 degrees F. Cooler temperatures prolongs bract color, but don't allow it to dip below 50 degrees. Water poinsettias thoroughly as needed. If your poinsettia is wrapped in a decorative foil, punch holes in the bottom of the foil to ensure proper drainage and remove excess water from saucers.
For long-term maintenance of a poinsettia plant, use a complete fertilizer of equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium every two weeks. To encourage your poinsettia to re-bloom and obtain the shape you want, prune the plant in early June. At the end of September, place plants in total darkness for 14 hours daily. Colored bracts should begin to appear in early November and be fully expanded by Thanksgiving.
Photos courtesy of Carl Wilson
Updated Saturday, September 25, 2010