Holiday gift plants are once again part of many gardeners' collections. As the season passes, we are left wondering what to do with these new additions to the houseplant menagerie. Some plants respond to proper training and care and become obedient lovable members of the household. Others tolerate our homes for a few weeks and then pass on to the great beyond for houseplants. Knowing which to save and which to discard saves a great deal of frustration. Don't spend needless time and energy on plants that won't rebloom well.
Amaryllis can easily be saved from year to year. After the beautiful blossoms die back, remove the flower stock. Check the pot that came with the plant. If it doesn't have drainage out the bottom, repot the bulb immediately. Otherwise the bulb will be overwatered and will decay. Leave the top of the bulb uncovered. Place the plant in a warm, bright location and let it continue to produce long strap-like leaves. Add soluble fertilizer every couple of weeks.In mid-May, when danger of frost is past, put the bulbs, pot and all, in the garden in semi-shade. Water and fertilize to keep the plants actively growing. In mid-September, before freezing temperatures occur, lift the pots and place them in the basement and don't water them. After December 1, repot the bulbs in a well-drained potting mix. Put in a warm area to force a new bloom.
Poinsettias, in my opinion, don't ever become good members of the permanent houseplant collection. Prolong the beauty by keeping the plant in a well-lighted location away from drafts. Water and fertilize regularly, but don't allow the plant to sit in water. Once the beautiful red leaves drop, you are faced with a decision. The easiest way to recycle the plant is in the compost pit, but then it doesn't flower for the following year.
If growing conditions are good, the plant will hold its leaves throughout the spring. Once again, place pot and all in the garden in a protected area. Cut the plant back to 5 or 6 inches and allow the new shoots to grow. Pinch the new shoots when 5 to 6 inches high to encourage bushy compact plants. Fertilize to ensure a normal growth and protect it from pets.
In mid-September the difficult part of the process begins. Poinsettias are long-night plants. Bracts or leaves turn color when the nights get long. Natural day length causes most newer varieties of poinsettias to bloom about Thanksgiving time. Unfortunately, it's difficult for a plant to receive natural day length inside a home. As interior lights are turned on and off, the plant's blooming system never gets synchronized, and the leaves do not color. Growing conditions for poinsettias are bright, sun-filled days with total darkness at night in the fall. Total darkness can be achieved by placing the plant in a closet, but I, for one, am perfectly happy to let greenhouse growers deal with the frustrations of nursing the plant.
Cyclamen are another popular plant this time of year. They prefer cool temperatures. Leaf yellowing and bud drop occur if the night temperature is too high (above 70 degrees F.) or if the plant does not get enough light. Give plants bright indirect light, and fertilize every two weeks for longer growth. They do much better at 55 to 60 degrees F. than at higher temperatures found in most homes. Water around the edge of the pot or from the bottom, because the crown is sensitive to decay. Cyclamen are difficult to rebloom without a cool growing area with plenty of sunlight.
Azaleas are among the most difficult gift plants to rebloom. Extend their life with bright daylight and cool night temperatures. Keep moist since the flowers wilt prematurely if the soil becomes dry. They are grown in pure peat moss, so soaking the pot helps the moisture penetrate. Use acid type fertilizers to keep the soil acidic. Water with a solution of one teaspoon of vinegar per quart of water.
Miniature Christmas trees and holly bushes should generally be treated as indoor plants. The most popular miniature tree is the Norfolk Island pine. Norfolk Island is one of the islands where the mutineers from HMS Bounty settled after they put the infamous Captain Bligh afloat in a lifeboat. Imagine these trees growing in a lush tropical island with plenty of sunlight, warmth and humidity. Successful growth depends on providing the same conditions in your home. That's difficult, but bright light and high humidity benefit the plants.
Check other potted Christmas trees. Many of the tiny Christmas trees are not hardy in our area. Unfortunately they do not make good houseplants and most end up being discarded.
Potted holly bushes are the same. None of the hollies sold in tiny pots survive our outdoor growing conditions. If you are looking for a holly bush, visit your nursery next spring. There are several hardy hollies for our area. The "Blue" series (Blue Boy, Blue Girl, Blue Angel, etc.) survive most winters in the lower valleys.
Remember flowering gift plants are best treated as temporary gifts rather than permanent members of the family. Choose those that are easy to rebloom to increase your enjoyment of indoor gardening. Recycle those that are difficult in the compost pile. Either way you'll appreciate the beautiful plants and the greenhouse growers who raise them for you each year.