1. By: Elisabeth Ginsburg

    poinsettia

    Specialty poinsettias may offer more reason to care for the plants all season. (Image care of Jessie Keith)

    The holiday razzle-dazzle is over and it’s back to real life. Nothing symbolizes the banality of January more than Holiday Houseplant Hangover, a unique form of misery that comes from dealing with the remains of once-gorgeous amaryllis, paperwhites, Christmas cactus and poinsettias.

    Some people cure the condition with tough love, depositing the declining plants on the compost pile or in the trash and speeding to the nearest garden center for a few fresh-faced African violets or moth orchids. Then there are those die-hards who consider it a moral failing to discard a desiccated poinsettia. They devote themselves to the fading botanical belles, taking all the pains necessary to ensure eventual rebloom.

    611px-Schlumbergera_Buckleyi_GroupIf you are one of those two types, you already know what to do, but what if you are a fence-sitter, unable to decide if your flowerless Christmas cactus is worth lifting a weakened, post-holiday finger? The cure for your case of Holiday Houseplant Hangover depends on the type of plant and your level of commitment. Before making your decision, weigh the options below.

    Paperwhites

    For most people, paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta varieties) are one-shot wonders. They won’t survive outdoors in cold winter climates, so if that is your situation, make a guilt-free trip to the compost bin. Those basking in warmer environs can plant the paperwhites outside, where they may or may not prosper. Forced bulbs often take a year off before reblooming.

    Poinsettias

    fafard Ultra Container with Extended Feed RESILIENCE frontIs a poinsettia plant (Euphorbia pulcherrima) that you bought at a big-box store for $4.50 really worth many months of aftercare? If it is, it’s possible to keep it going. After the blooms fade, move it to a uniformly brightly lit spot, where the temperature hovers between 60 and 70 degrees
    Fahrenheit. Water thoroughly when the top of the soil feels dry, but don’t let water pool in the plant saucer. Apply a soluble houseplant fertilizer once a month, according to manufacturers’ directions. Lop the old flowering stems back to about four inches in early March, making sure a few leaves remain on each stem. This is also a good time to repot, if necessary, using a high-quality potting soil mixture, like Fafard® Ultra Potting Mix with extended feed with Resilience™.

    In spring, when night temperatures consistently hover above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, place the plant in a lightly shaded outdoor location. Prune the shoots back again in mid to late July to encourage branching. Around Labor Day, bring the poinsettia inside and place in a sunny spot. At the end of September, stimulate the bloom cycle by keeping the plant in total darkness from five pm to eight am every day, before returning it to its lighted position. Reduce water and fertilizer applications during this time. Continue this routine for about 13 weeks, by which time you should see the festive colored bracts we all associate with the holidays. The plant should be ready for its second turn in the spotlight.

    Amaryllis

    800px-Amaryllis-wikiAmaryllis (Hippeastrum hybrids) often flourish, though they may produce fewer blooms the second year. Clip off dead flowers, but don’t remove stalks until they begin to turn yellow. As the bulb sprouts new leaves, water when the top of the soil feels dry and fertilize every two weeks. Like poinsettias, amaryllis appreciate a summer vacation outdoors, but are happiest in a sunny location. Bring inside at Labor Day. If well cared-for and allowed to remain evergreen, the plant will eventually rebloom in its own time. To control the timing, stop watering and let the plant languish in the dark for eight to 12 weeks, returning it to a brightly lit place when new growth appears. Resume watering and fertilizing. Amaryllis like to be cozy in their pots, so only repot every three years, making sure that the new container is no more than two inches wider than the bulb’s diameter. Detach and pot any offshoot bulbs that have sprouted. They will grow on and may eventually flower.

    Holiday Cactus

    FF Cactus Potting Mix 8qt frontThanksgiving and Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata and Schlumbergera bridgesii, respectively) often enjoy a healthy afterlife. Thankfully, the plants are relatively unfussy. Post-bloom, keep your cactus in a bright, sunny space for the remainder of the fall and winter. Like poinsettia, holiday cactus can vacation outdoors in semi-shaded comfort. Pinching back stems in June will result in more flowers later on. When it comes to flowering, these holiday favorites share poinsettia’s proclivity for long, dark spells. To control bloom time, the plants should spend six weeks on a regimen of fourteen hours a day in continuous darkness and ten hours of bright light, at an ideal temperature of about 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Water holiday cactus when the soil surface is dry, except in the fall, after the plant has set buds, at which time the soil should be kept uniformly moist. Fertilize monthly from late winter through summer’s end with soluble fertilizer diluted to half strength. Every few years, repot in spring, using a mixture of six parts high quality potting mix, like Fafard® Cactus and Succulent Potting Mix.

    Whatever option you choose to cure Holiday Houseplant Hangover, don’t add guilt to the mix. Life is too short and houseplants too plentiful to mourn a poinsettia.

    About Elisabeth Ginsburg


    Born into a gardening family, Elisabeth Ginsburg grew her first plants as a young child. Her hands-on experiences range from container gardening on a Missouri balcony to mixed borders in the New Jersey suburbs and vacation gardening in Central New York State. She has studied horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden and elsewhere and has also written about gardens, landscape history and ecology for years in traditional and online publications including The New York Times Sunday “Cuttings” column, the Times Regional Weeklies, Horticulture, Garden Design, Flower & Garden, The Christian Science Monitor and many others. Her “Gardener’s Apprentice” weekly column appears in papers belonging to the Worrall chain of suburban northern and central New Jersey weekly newspapers and online at http://www.gardenersapprentice.com. She and her feline “garden supervisors” live in northern New Jersey.

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