Chalk it up to their colors, their long-lasting blooms, or, quite simply, tradition—certain plants have become staples of the holiday season. They hold a firm place as festive decorations, hostess gifts, and even stocking stuffers. Here are some tips to follow to best enjoy the plants you get—and to pass along with the plants you give.
Amaryllis (Hippeastrum ×acramannii)
Usually given as a bulb to pot and grow. Plant the bulb so the top third sits above the soil. Place in bright light and water sparingly until flower bud appears, then increase watering. Do not move the plant after the bud appears or it may drop. Decrease watering when the flower fades, but continue to feed every two weeks until midfall. Then let the soil dry out completely and let the bulb sit dormant for eight weeks.
Florists’ Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum)
Place in bright light, but out of direct sunlight. A cool room (55°–65°F) suits cyclamen best. The plant grows from tubers and must be watered carefully to avoid rot. Stand the pot in a dish of water until the soil surface is damp. Remove spent flowers and yellowed leaves by their stalks. When flowering ends, let the soil dry out and keep the pot in a cool place until growth resumes from the tubers.
Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla)
Decorated with white lights and miniature ornaments, small plants make cute Christmas trees. Well-grown, they will rival traditional spruces in a few years. Place in a bright spot with some direct sun and cool winter temperatures. Keep the soil moist, but water less in winter. Prefers humid air—mist with water at least once a week to prevent yellowing of the needles.
Flaming Katy (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana)
With its succulent leaves, this naturally fall- and winter-blooming plant stands up well in hot, dry rooms. Place it in bright light and water sparingly. It is difficult to get flaming katy to rebloom, but a summer spent outdoors in light shade, and a fall in a room devoid of artificial light (see Christmas cactus Q & A, page 12) may do the trick.
Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
Bright light, normal room temperatures (60°–70°F), and regular watering suit newly acquired plants. Cut the stems down to six inches in the spring and keep the soil nearly dry until new growth appears. Repot and water well over the summer. In mid-fall, increase watering and feeding and keep the plant in total darkness for 14 hours a day until flower bracts form and begin to show color. Then treat normally.