What to do with those holiday plants?

Now that the holiday season is behind us and we’ve begun a New Year, I once again contemplate the fate of my holiday plants. The decision to save or compost rests solely on my shoulders. The Christmas tree gets ground up and recycled into mulch. I remove the withered flowers of the amaryllises and keep them well-watered and well-fed in bright light prior to moving them outdoors.  After the last spring frost in April, I plant them in “amaryllis alley:–a well-drained, full sun (morning sun and afternoon shade is fine) bed occupied by many other amaryllises from Christmas’ past.  I plant each bulb so the “neck” is 2 to 4 inches below the ground.  Then I blanket the transplanted bulbs with a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch.

The Christmas cactuses stay in my home.  These tropical rain forest cactuses are commonly passed down from one generation to another as living keepsakes-a true testament to their durability and longevity as houseplants.  If you recently purchased a Christmas cactus, repot it in a well-drained potting mix comprised of equal parts of soil, peat moss, and perlite.  Keep your cactus in a window receiving bright, indirect sunlight.  This light exposure resembles their native habitat in the jungles of Brazil, where they reside in the shaded nooks and crannies of tree branches.  You can take them outdoors during the summer, but avoid direct sunlight, which can damage their leaves.

After they finish flowering, allow the top half-inch of water to dry out before watering your Christmas cactuses.  When new stem growth begins in the spring, water them when the soil surface feels dry.

Christmas cactuses need no coaxing to flower during the holidays.  After 6 to 8 weeks of short days (12 hours or less of daylight) and cool nighttime temperatures below 65 degrees, flowers buds will naturally appear.

When it comes to poinsettias, I ask myself every year:  should I attempt to reflower them for next Christmas or should I compost them?  I not only have to contend with my own poinsettias, but those of friends and acquaintances who can’t bear to toss them out.  As a horticulturist, they assume that I’ll find a good home for them.

I’ve attempted to reflower poinsettias in the past to bloom at Christmas, but the experience caused much marital strife as I attempted to meet their exacting requirements for bright daylight, 14 uninterrupted hours of darkness at night, and temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees.  My painstaking efforts resulted in Charlie Brown-looking poinsettias-at least, that’s what my wife called the survivors.

I can’t bear to compost poinsettias, so I go through my annual ritual of planting these Mexican natives in my “Poinsettia Patch” in April after the last spring frost.  The people who entrusted the care of their poinsettias to me have already forgotten about them-which is good because by June, I also forget about them.  It’s got to be Christmas magic, because every spring, there’s always room for more castoff poinsettias in my “Patch.”


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