Holiday Plant Care as seen on KDKA’s PTL

It's a Christmas miracle, a Christmas cactus blooming on the holiday. Photo by Doug Oster


I’m so glad to be back from a long Christmas vacation, I’m lucky to have a job I love. My family and friends bet me I couldn’t go three weeks without working, it was hard as I kept running into stories, but I did it!
I’ll be posting lots of stuff over the next week to catch up.
Lets talk about holiday plants and how to make them not only survive, but thrive. Poinsettias, Christmas cactus and amaryllis are the big three and all enjoy life on the windowsill with the right care.
Poinsettias can live for years both inside and outside.
Don’t throw your poinsettias away after the season. Not only will they keep their color for months, they are a cool garden plant too. By the way they are technically poison, but taste so awful, no child or animal would take more than a bite. They would have to eat a a plate full just to get a stomach ache.
I like all the weird ones, different colors and forms, but they all have similar growing requirements.
The first job is to remove the foil, place the plant on a saucer, you can use the plastic ones they sell at the garden center or old plates from the thrift store. This will allow water to go through the soil, flush out the bad stuff and the plant can drain properly. They like it a little on the dry side, just poke your finger into the soil. If it’s dry a couple inches down, add some water. Depending on the temperature of the house and the amount of light it gets, that might mean once a week.

Poinsettias need some light, and will only last a couple weeks if used as decorations up a dark staircase. Move them onto a table near a window.

There’s no reason to fertilize any indoor plants this time of the year, there isn’t enough light for them to process the nutrients. Wait until March to add some liquid organic fertilizer.

When there’s no chance of frost (around May 15 in our area), poinsettias can go outside and will make a handsome plant in the garden. Some folks will bring them in and out for years. There’s a giant one in the back of the greenhouse at Janoski’s in Clinton, Pa. It’s not that old and is over six feet tall.

Getting them to bloom again is tough, requiring exactly 12 hours of light and the same time in the dark. That’s really hard to do unless you have a greenhouse. Back in the day gardeners would put the plant in the closet at night, then bring it back out into the daylight. What a pain, I wouldn’t bother. They will color up when they the light is right, but usually not as nicely as the plants from a good greenhouse.
There’s not much out there prettier than an amaryllis.
Amaryllis offer some of the most beautiful flowers for the holiday season. For the first season the bulb has everything in it that the flower needs. The job of the gardener is to treat the plant right to get blooms next season. I’ve got about a 50/50 record for re-blooming. I never throw them away and they will bloom when they are happy. Sometimes that’s every year, sometimes it takes three.
After the plant is done blooming remove the flower stalk leaving the tall, floppy foliage. Grow it as a houseplant all winter and start fertilizing in March. Mid-May it goes outside in the shade. Sometimes transplanting to a pot one size bigger will help. Keep feeding the plant every couple weeks through the season.
In August stop all watering and fertilization and bring the amaryllis back inside. I put mine down in the basement for six to eight weeks until they go into dormancy. The leaves will turn brown, which feeds the bulb. Then bring the plant back to the windowsill add a little water and hope for buds to emerge.
I rarely get them to bloom at Christmas, but anytime they flower, it’s wonderful. Usually it’s about being too busy at the end of the season and not getting them into dormancy fast enough. Others never make it outside, are forgotten about and bloom after given a little water.

The Christmas cactus is a perennial favorite gift for gardeners. It’s indestructible, usually killed with kindness. It’s not really a cactus, so it’s watered like any other houseplant, but prefers dry over wet. I like to grow them in eight inch and bigger pots so they don’t need watered as often and they get nice and big.
They are triggered to bloom in the same way poinsettias are. That means when growing on the windowsill they are often turned into an Easter or Thanksgiving cactus.

I forgot about one out in my unheated greenhouse and it received the perfect light to be in full bloom on Christmas day.

For many gardeners a Christmas cactus becomes a family heirloom passed down for generations. I’ve done stories on plants that were 100 years old.

Enjoy your holiday plants now and for years to come.

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