By The Old House Web


Many plants can be grown to provide color during the Christmas season, and flourish with proper care. While the poinsettia has become the traditional holiday plant, the cyclamen and the Jerusalem cherry are also beautiful holiday plants. The cyclamen and poinsettia are grown for their colorful flowers, whereas the Jerusalem cherry is grown for its small, red fruit. However, in order to achieve holiday color, these plants must be given proper care throughout the year. Other plants appearing during the holidays and all year round include the amaryllis, azalea, begonia, Christmas pepper, chrysanthemum, cyclamen, gloxinia, holiday cactus, Jerusalem cherry, kalanchoe, and paperwhite narcissus, all of which flourish beautifully as houseplants.

Proper care varies with species, but there are some general recommendations to follow when caring for these plants. Most species do best in a location where as much natural light as possible is available. Optimal temperatures include a daytime temprerature of 65 to 75 degrees farenheit (F), and temperatures around 50 to 55 degrees F during the night. However, there are some exceptions; the cyclamen and paperwhite narcissus would hold up better at 60 to 65 degrees F during the daytime and 50 degrees F at night. African violets, poinsettias, and begonias should be kept even warmer at night, at temperatures around 60 degrees F. Because most homes are extremely dry compared to the greenhouse environment where they were grown, it is recommended that the plants be placed in groups or on trays with water. To help prolong the flowering period, plants can be placed in rooms with higher humidity, such as the bathroom or kitchen. Usually, however, the plants should be kept in a COOLER room, away from warm air currents. The plants should be checked daily and watered as needed. If the pot has a drainage hole, enough water should be applied so some will drain out the bottom, but the plants should NOT stand in water for extended periods of time. Most of these plants do not need any fertilizer during their blooming time. Reblooming is usually not recommended except for amaryllis and holiday cactus.

The cyclamen should be grown in a cool, well-lighted area but not in direct sunlight. An ideal exposure is an east window where the plant does not touch the glass and temperatures are 50 degrees F. at night and 60 degrees F during the day. Cyclamen requires moist soil and good drainage. When watering, use lukewarm water, taking care to keep the water off the foliage and crown of the plant. Don't allow the plant to remain in water for long periods, as diseases may occur. The plant should be watered so that the soil is not washed from around the corm (bulb-like structure) and roots. Drainage may be improved by placing gravel or broken pieces of pottery in the bottom of the container.

In the late winter and early spring, older flowers will fade and new flower buds will continue to open, until about the first part of February. At this time, the leaves may start to turn brown, no more flowers will appear, and the plant will seem to deteriorate. If the plant is to be carried over to another season, it will need a rest period. The amount and frequency of watering should be reduced, and the plant should be placed in a cool area (40-50 degree F.) until warm, spring weather arrives. At this time, the corm can be replanted in a prepared soil mix of one part soil, one part peat moss, and one part sand).

After danger of frost is over, place the plant in a cool, protected, outdoors location. The plant should be given adequate water and fertilizer about once a month or less, with a water-soluble fertilizer employed during the summer months. During the brightest days of summer, select a bright location that provides partial shade for the plant to grow. The plant should be taken indoors before frost in the fall.

During the late fall and throughout the winter, the plant should be given full sun (east exposure), with temperatures no higher than 65 degrees F. Flowering should occur between mid-November and early December.

During the holiday season, in order to keep the fruit of Jerusalem cherry on the plant for the maximum length of time, put the plant in a cool (45 to 50 degree F. at night), sunny location. If the plant is kept in a warm, drafty room, the leaves and fruit may drop rather quickly. It should be noted that the fruits are considered poisonous.

After the holidays, the plant itself is seldom worth carrying over for a second year. However, by collecting the ripe fruit from the original plant, and removing and drying the seeds and storing them until spring, new plants can be produced for next Christmas. In early March, the seeds should be sown in a mixture of one part sand and one part peat moss and germinated at 70 to 75 degrees F. The plants should be transplanted to four-inch pots when they are one month to six weeks old and then grown at 50 to 55 degrees F.

During the summer, plants should be placed outside in semi- shade and watered when necessary. The plants should not be allowed to wilt or the leaves will turn yellow and drop. They should be fertilized moderately with a water-soluble fertilizer, always with care taken in following manufacturer's directions; heavy fertilization will cause poor fruit set. The plants should be pinched occasionally, but not after July 1. In September, the plants should be brought indoors and transplanted to 6".

The plants should then be placed in a sunny location and kept at a cool temperature. They should be watered thoroughly when needed and provided with good drainage. The fruits should start to color in early November; the plants will reach full fruiting by early December.

Source of Information: Dr. William H. Carlson, MSU Horticulture L. Taylor, Hortopics: 12/85.

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