Many of us purchase live plants to decorate our homes during the fall and winter holidays. We set them on the dining room side table, forget about them, they die, and then we buy new plants a few weeks later.
You can keep your holiday plants alive for years and in bloom for weeks by following these few steps.
First, buy flowering plants with at least one-third to one-half unopened buds. On poinsettias, check to see that the all the tiny yellow buttons (which are actually the flower buds) in the center of the brightly colored bracts are closed. The flowers on florist chrysanthemums, azaleas and miniature roses which are grown in greenhouses often have open blossoms on one side and buds on the other. You can always rotate the plant to show the blooms, but plants with all the flowers blossoming evenly will put on a better show. Trim off dead flowers to keep the others blooming.
Second, don’t place holiday plants near heat sources or in direct sunlight. Keep them in a cool spot with indirect light to slow evaporation both from the soil and the flower petals and to prevent leaf burn. If you can see the shadow of your hand on the wall midday, there’s enough light. Topiaries, especially those made from ivy, last only a few weeks when kept in warm, dry, dusty houses. Place topiaries and live holiday trees outside, on the front porch or the patio, until the day before the party. Poinsettias are tropical plants that have been hybridized by growers to tolerate colder winter temperatures. They can also be kept outdoors.
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Next, remove any decorative paper or foil from around the plant (the foil prevents us from seeing the soil surface) and give it lots of water in the sink. After it drains, set the plant into a cachepot or a decorative pot with a saucer underneath to protect the furniture and floor from water damage.
Water holiday plants when the soil surface is dry. Use your finger and check moisture levels every three to four days. No need to fertilize until you’re putting the plants into the garden after the holidays.
Many live holiday plants can be transplanted into the garden. Living holiday trees including redwoods, pines and fir trees get huge at maturity. Make sure to plant them where they’ll have enough space to grow.
Greenhouses control temperature and light to force flowering plants into bloom off season. Azaleas and camellias that normally bloom in spring should flower again, but it may take another year.
Chrysanthemums bought this fall are flowering on schedule; miniature roses are just behind schedule. Many mum and miniature rose plants seem as though they’re formed of one plant with a single root system. In fact, most are groupings of cuttings, each with its own very small root system. Plant them carefully into the garden after they’ve finished blooming. Find a sunny spot, amend heavy soil if needed, cut back stems to 6 inches and take care to be very gentle with the tiny root systems. Fertilize lightly with a low number fertilizer at planting time, keep soil moist and expect lovely flowers during their normal season next year.
Send Elinor Teague plant questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com (“plants” in the subject line).