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News from the West Central Research and Outreach Center

Caring for your holiday plants

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Esther Jordan

West Central Research and Outreach Center

Poinsettias and Christmas Cacti are two of the more common flowering houseplants popular during the holidays. The length of time that your holiday plants will flourish depends on the maturity of the plant and how you take care of it.    

Poinsettias

Poinsettias thrive in bright, sunny natural daylight; six hours daily is ideal. Keep the plant from touching cold windows. To prolong the bright red color, temperatures should not exceed 70° F during the day, or fall below 55° F at night. High temperatures will shorten the plant’s life. Be sure to avoid placing the plants near drafts, fluctuating air currents, excess heat and dry air from appliances, fireplaces or ventilating ducts.  Placing your plant in a cool room (55 to 65⁰ F) at night will extend bloom time.

Check the soil in the pot daily and give it a good drink whenever it feels dry to the touch. The best indication of a thorough watering is when the water begins to seep through the drain holes at the bottom of the inner pot. Be sure to discard any excess water, as poinsettias left sitting in water may suffer from permanent root-rot damage. It is not necessary to fertilize your poinsettias when they are in bloom. With proper care poinsettias will continue to bloom for three to four months after the holidays.

Christmas Cacti

Despite its name, the Christmas Cactus is not a true cactus and should be cared for in much the same way as most indoor plants. While it is blooming, water it when the soil surface is dry to the touch. Once all the blooms have disappeared, water less frequently allowing the soil to dry completely between waterings. The plant should not become bone dry nor be wet on the bottom. Fertilize monthly with a dilute balanced house plant fertilizer during the bright light months.

Christmas cacti can re-bloom at different times of the year with a little effort on your part. Christmas Cacti are short day plants meaning they bloom when nights are at least 14 hours long and daylight periods are between eight to 10 hours for six weeks. Streetlights or indoor lighting may disrupt the required dark period so they may need to be covered at night. Exposure to prolonged cold temperatures between 50 to 55° F will also induce flowering. Christmas cacti may be placed in a shady spot outdoors during the summer, but must be brought back indoors when temperatures fall below 50° F.  

Once the flower buds have started to develop, Christmas cacti do not like to be disturbed. Drafts or sudden changes in temperature or humidity – or even the direction of sunlight they receive –  can result in dropping buds. If the plants are to be displayed in a warmer room than the one in which the buds were initiated, move them there as soon as the buds appear. As long as there is adequate light and a relatively cool night temperature, they should continue to develop normally and will reward you with spectacular blossoms.

For more information on care of houseplants, please refer to www.extension.umn.edu or to see a listing of horticultural education classes offered at the West Central Research and Outreach Center, visit wcroc.cfans.umn.edu.

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