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Galveston Monthly

Keeping Holiday Plants Happy & Healthy

Dec 06, 2019 09:05AM
The holiday season is hectic enough without having to worry about those holiday plants
and how to keep them alive - don’t drown the poinsettias or dry out the evergreens and
the Christmas tree. Whether the goal is getting a fresh wreath to last the whole season or
gifting amaryllis plants to a friend, here are some tips for those holiday beauties.

Amaryllis
The name Amaryllis is taken from the name of a shepherdess in Virgil’s pastoral Eclogues, from the Greek (amarysso), meaning «to sparkle.» The species was introduced into cultivation from South America’s tropical regions at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Reproducing slowly by bulb division or seeds, amaryllis have gradually naturalized in many areas.

Of all flowering bulbs, amaryllis is the easiest to bring to bloom, indoors or out and over an extended time period. Considering also the splendor of the extremely sizeable flowers, amaryllis is highly popular among novice and experienced gardeners alike and in demand worldwide.

The flower heads are often so large that the stems cannot support them. It may be helpful to insert a thin stick inside the hollow stem for support.

Amaryllis can be found in a spectrum of colors and color combinations including various shades of red, white, pink, salmon, and orange. Striped and multicolored varieties also exist, usually combining shades of pink or red with white.

The fleshy stalk of an amaryllis retains a great deal of moisture giving the flowers a water supply within the plant itself. You can use amaryllis as a dry decoration for a limited period; a few stems with fully blown flowers can be placed on a dinner table without becoming instantly limp.

Topped by four or five substantial sized blooms, these flamboyant starry trumpets (which spring from huge papery bulbs) make an impressive display. The ability to survive and sustain itself is another attractive detail of this plant.

 Christmas Cactus

Popular all over the world but native to South America, Christmas cactus is often found rooting in debris that has collected in the nooks of trees. It is easy to care for and appears in lovely shades of yellow, salmon, pink, white, and red.

This is not a drought-tolerant desert plant but a long-lived tropical that flowers for a month or more in winter and prefers conditions similar to those favored by orchids. The use of well-draining potting soil is helpful because overwatering may be problematic - Christmas cactus cannot tolerate wet feet.

Unlike the other Christmas favorite, poinsettia, Christmas cactus is not toxic to cats and dogs. If cared for properly, a Christmas cactus may live for twenty years or more.

Tips for maintaining a long-lived cactus include trimming of the branches when they become too heavy or long especially if the ends of the branches become limp or shriveled. Trim by clipping back at the segment joints, cut each branch by at least a third. If a branch has become “woody” towards its base, it can be cut back all the way to the woody section and new growth will continue from there.

 Cyclamen
Cyclamen is a small genus of hardy, sweetly scented plants that produce blooms on long stems held upright above beautifully variegated, heart-shaped foliage. Native to Europe and the Mediterranean, cyclamen grow from tubers and can be found in many varieties even a miniature version. 

These popular winter bloomers can last an extended period of time and are gorgeous gifts. Place cyclamen plants carefully as they can be toxic to cats and dogs.

Cyclamen prefer cool temperatures that will prolong the life of the flowers. They thrive in bright light (but not direct sun) especially near an east or west facing window. Avoid drafty areas like heat vents or drafty windows.

Watering cyclamen is a bit different from most houseplants - they do not like water on the leaves or stems so it is best to water from the bottom. Fill the plant tray with water allowing the plant to soak up what it needs through the holes in the bottom of the pot.

Once the soil is wet, dump out the excess water. Do not let the plant to sit in water for any extended amount of time.

 Paperwhites
Paperwhites are perennial plants native to the Mediterranean from Greece to Portugal that have since naturalized across Texas, California, and Louisiana.

Paperwhites are of the Narcissus family and produce small, star-shaped, highly fragrant flowers.
Beautiful and easy to “force” blooms that will last throughout the holiday season make the paperwhite a popular plant at this time of year. They are often sold as bulbs that you can plant in a vase of pebbles or glass chips. Add water and watch them grow in three to five weeks.

Poinsettias
Euphorbia pulcherrima (meaning “very beautiful”) are members of the spurge family of plants. They are native to Mexico where they were cultivated by the Aztecs who made a reddish-purple dye from the colorful bracts and used the milky sap to treat fever.

The bright red flowers were known as the Flores de Noche Buena or “Flowers of the Holy Night” since they bloom each year during the Christmas season. Widely used in holiday floral displays because of their remarkable green and red foliage, the “flowers” are technically modified leaves known as bracts while the actual flowers are the small bead-like entities found in the center of the bracts.

Whether the poinsettia is poisonous is debatable among growers, however they are not intended for human consumption and should be kept out of reach of children and pets. When a stem breaks, a milky sap will seep out at the break and may cause some skin irritation. Wash thoroughly with soap and water.

Place poinsettias in indirect light and water as needed, taking care to ensure adequate drainage by not letting their feet rest in water-filled trays that may cause root rot. Do not fertilize while the plants are in bloom.

Norfolk Pine
A member of the Araucariaceae family, the Norfolk Pine is a native of Norfolk Island in the southern Pacific Ocean east of Australia. The island was discovered by Captain James Cook
and named for the Duchess of Norfolk, and it is here where the pines are harvested for use in the shipbuilding industry.

However, the symmetrical look and the fine textured foliage of this little pine tree provide a graceful ornamental embellishment that has made it a favorite for Christmas decorating. It is a long-lasting, easy-care houseplant that can be reused as your Christmas tree again and again.

Though appearing fragile, the Norfolk Pine is quite content outdoors, tolerant of most soils, and can survive in our salty conditions quite well. This plant prefers full sun with few special needs in regards to water and fertilizer.

Rosemary Tree
Technically an aromatic evergreen shrub, the Rosemary can be found at this time of year pruned to a Christmas tree shape creating a whimsical addition to holiday decorations. 

Rosmarinus officinalis is a member of the mint family Labiatae and is native to the Mediterranean Sea area. Its botanical name is derived from a Latin word meaning “dew of the sea” and it is considered a symbol of friendship.

Not only used for decorating, this plant is a popular herb called for and used in many recipes.

Holiday Charm
Create a festive atmosphere easily and effortlessly with the use of these diverse and holiday blooms that will add a touch of charm and personality to any décor. Tucked among and incorporated into holiday decorations, they add drama, sophistication, color, texture, and interest.

All these plants are readily available at local garden shops and nurseries. The Christmas holidays are an exciting series of traditional and family celebrations, so start anew or continue the
tradition of bringing special plants into the home, the tradition of enjoying the delight and pleasure provided by their flowers, fruits, and foliage.