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Almanac: November-December 2016

Preparing for Holiday Decorating

Now that you have put your outdoor gardens to bed, it is time to prepare for the upcoming Holiday Season.  Indoor plants can add beauty to your home during the cold and snowy months ahead.

Amaryllis:  To plant a newly acquired Amaryllis bulb, place a piece of clay shard over the drainage hole at the bottom of a pot that is 1-1 /2 to 2 inches in diameter larger than the widest part of the bulb. A suitable growing medium consists of 2 parts packaged potting soil, 1 part perlite, and approximately 1 tablespoon slow release fertilizer. Place the bulb so that the top half (pointed end) is protruding above the soil. After potting, water thoroughly.

Place the newly potted bulb on a sunny windowsill in a cool room (55 to 65°F). Water only when the top layer of soil in the container feels dry to the touch. If the soil is kept overly moist, the bulb may rot. As the roots develop and fill the container, the top layer of soil will dry more quickly and the frequency of watering should be increased accordingly. In approximately 6 to 7 weeks, flower buds will emerge.

Once growth begins, rotate the pot regularly to prevent the plant from leaning toward the light. If the amaryllis has been grown in a warm room, the flower stalk may require staking to be held upright; take care not to damage the bulb when inserting a stake into the container. For longer lasting flowers, move the plant out of direct sunlight and keep it in a cool room after the blossoms have opened.

After the flowers fade, remove the flowers but do not cut off the flower stalk or foliage. Place the plant back on a sunny windowsill and continue watering thoroughly.  Frequently the bulb will send up a second flower stalk.  After the last of the flowers fade it is essential to keep the foliage growing vigorously since it produces the food for the following year’s blossoms.

Poinsettia:  Place your newly acquired poinsettia in a sunny location, if you have one. Avoid an area where there is a draft or sudden fluctuations in temperature. Do not allow the leaves to touch cold windowpanes. The poinsettia’s flower bracts last longest when daytime temperatures are from 60° to 70° F and there is a slight drop in temperature at night.

When the top layer of soil feels dry to the touch, water the poinsettia thoroughly until water runs through the drainage holes in the bottom of the container. Wait 15 minutes, then discard the excess water that accumulated in the saucer beneath the pot.  Fertilize the poinsettia regularly with a water soluble houseplant fertilizer following label directions.

In order to have a well-shaped, bushy plant for the following year, cut the stems back to 6 inches in height sometime between February and early March.  Be sure to make the cuts just above a node. Contact your local Cooperative Extension for detailed instructions.

Christmas Cactus:  The Christmas cactus is native to tropical rain forests, unlike the vast majority of cacti.  As a result, the Christmas cactus is cared for quite differently from most of its relatives.

The Christmas cactus requires direct sunlight. However, during the summer, the midday sun can burn the stems. Thus, during summer, move the plant a few feet from the window or place the plant in a window that receives indirect light.

The Christmas cactus should be watered when the top inch of soil in the container feels dry to the touch. Soak the soil thoroughly until water comes through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Wait 15 minutes and discard the excess water that accumulated in the drop plate beneath the container.  The Christmas cactus grows best when humidity is high. The best way to increase humidity is to place the pot, with its drip plate, on a tray filled with small pebbles. The water will evaporate from the tray and humidify the air around the plant.

A soil mix consisting of equal parts of peat moss, perlite, and packaged potting soil is suitable for the Christmas cactus. Add 1 teaspoon dolomitic limestone and 1 teaspoon 5-10-5 fertilizer for each 2 quarts of soil used.  Fertilize the plant with a water-soluble fertilizer recommended for flowering houseplants. Apply fertilizer every month at full strength or every two weeks at half the strength suggested on the label. Reduce the frequency of fertilization from autumn until after plants have flowered and new growth has begun.

Christmas Tree Care:  A few simple practices will help maintain tree color, reduce needle fall, and keep the tree moist and fire resistant.  When you bring home your cut tree, stand it in a bucket of water outdoors protected from sun and drying wind, or in a cool place inside.  When you bring the tree inside for decoration, make a fresh cut across the trunk at least one inch above the old cut.  The smoother and cleaner the cut is, the better the tree can absorb water.

Place the tree in a container of water or in a Christmas tree stand that has a reservoir of water.  Luke-warm water is taken up more readily than cold.  A tree in a warm room will absorb up to a quart of water a day; keep the reservoir filled above the base of the tree at all times.  Sterilization of the stand and tree base with boiling water before setting up the tree may also be beneficial in retarding the fouling of the tree’s pores that can ultimately reduce water uptake.

Place your tree in the coolest part of the room away from the fireplace, heaters, radiators, air ducts and TV sets, all of which can dry the needles.


—Sharon Rosenblum, Master Gardener CCE-Monroe County and Amanda Grisa, Horticulture Program Coordinator CCE-Monroe County

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