Poinsettias, Amaryllis, and miniature Christmas trees make delightful gifts during the holiday season, but they need special care to last.
Two plants couldn’t be more different than poinsettias and miniature pine trees, and their care is equally different. In each case, if these plants are simply set on a shelf or counter top and watered occasionally, they will probably never make it to the end of January. Amaryllis plants are often watered to death. Being bulbs, your holiday Amaryllis can last for several years, given the proper care.
Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are fascinating plants. The bright red blooms we see are actually leaves and the plant itself is a tree that can reach 13 feet in height! The red parts are bracts, or modified leaves. The flowers of poinsettia plants are tiny structures hidden away in pseudo flowers called cyathia. Native to Mexico, poinsettia plants need 12 hours of darkness for at least five days in a row to turn from green to red, in a process called photoperiodism. Even the slightest exposure to sunlight, street lights, headlights, or lamp light will interfere with this process. To keep poinsettia plants healthy indoors, find a spot with strong morning sun and afternoon shade. Poinsettias can be grown outdoors, in San Jose, California, as long as they are protected from frost.
Commercially grown poinsettias are infected with a phytoplasma (bacteria) that causes the plant to produce abundant lateral buds, which make the plant grow in a more bushy structure. Poinsettias left on their own have a more open, spindly growth. Poinsettias are susceptible to certain fungal and bacterial diseases, including leaf spot, stem rot, crown gall, anthracnose, blight, black rot, dieback, grey mold, powdery mildew, rust, scab, mosaic, and root knot nematodes. These tendencies indicate the importance of allowing plants to dry out between waterings and providing good drainage. The University of Vermont Extension provides an excellent way to remember how to care for your poinsettias:
Note: As member of the spurge family, poinsettias do contain latex, which can be an irritant. Contrary to popular belief, however, poinsettias are not poisonous.
In early fall, as the leaves begin to turn brown, cut the leaves back to 2 inches from the bulb and remove the bulb from the soil. Clean the bulb and place it in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator for 6 weeks. Just be sure there are no apples nearby, as they will sterilize your amaryllis bulb! After 6 weeks in the cooler, bulbs should be returned to the soil about 8 weeks before blooms are desired. This cycle can continue for several years.
Most holiday plants receive too much water, not enough sunlight, and too much heat to make it through the holiday season. Understanding what these popular holiday gifts need to stay healthy can transform them from short-lived hostess tokens to durable members of the garden, landscape, or home interior.
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