There is no shortage of colorful blooms gracing our homes this time of year. We make our homes festive and give gifts of poinsettias, Christmas cactus, amaryllis, cyclamen, paperwhite narcissus, hydrangeas, and even orchids. How do we make sure the cheer of these blooms carries on through the end of the festivities? Each plant has its own life span, but we can keep the party going through the new year!
A poinsettia will hold its colorful bracts far past Easter with proper care. Keeping the plant in bright light and out of cold drafts will help to keep their spirits bright and their leaves perky. Attention to proper watering is the real secret to success with a poinsettia. This is a plant that is mostly just sitting there looking pretty and not doing much of anything else. Because of this, they like to go a bit dry between waterings. If you push this too far and allow them to wilt, they will have a fit and drop some lower leaves. Regular checks to make sure the top of the soil is just barely moist are helpful. Poinsettias do not require fertilizer in the winter and will last longer if you skip it.
Christmas cactus will provide a pop of color for a few weeks around the holidays. Keeping the plant as cool as possible without going below fifty degrees at night will extend the life of the blooms. Christmas cactus, like poinsettias, are also in the middle of their dormant period when they are blooming. Allowing them to go slightly dry between thorough waterings will prevent root rot. Christmas cactus can be sensitive to bud drop when moved, so it is often best to select a position for them and let them stay there through their bloom time. Bright light with limited direct sunlight will keep the plant happy without overheating the buds and shortening the lifespan of the open flowers. If the plant is placed on a cool windowsill and allowed to dry a bit more between waterings, Christmas cactus will often reward you with another round of blooms in January or February.
Amaryllis bulbs make a dramatic focal point for a holiday display. As with most bulbs, the bloom time for these is fairly defined. An amaryllis stem will typically bloom for one to two weeks depending upon the temperature of the room. A larger bulb will produce multiple stems, extending the bloom time. Temperatures around fifty-five degrees will slow the plant down and extend the blooms to the longest possible span. On the other end of things, if you need it to be open in three days and it looks like it’s five days from blooming, you can put the plant in a warm sunny window and it will speed things up.
Paperwhite narcissus are a love them or leave them kind of bulb. Either way, they work pretty much the same way as amaryllis, but will generally bloom for about two weeks. These are the most disposable of the holiday plants and function much like a cut flower. The planting, sprouting, and growing are genuinely a large part of enjoying paperwhites. They are a gratifying project to do with children since they grow so quickly and can be grown on stones in a clear vase. Once in bloom, keep them cool to get them to last as long as possible.
Cyclamen are one of those plants that everyone wants to be able to grow. It is possible to keep cyclamen happy and blooming through spring, but if they are a challenge for you it is okay to use them as a disposable holiday plant. These plants will last longest when they are not allowed to ever stand in water. Standing water will rot the tuber and cause the plant to rot. Cyclamen do not need to be protected from a cool window and they will appreciate at least four hours of direct sunshine. Since they bloom so heavily, keeping them looking healthy and lush requires regular fertilization with a balanced plant food. Cyclamen want to always be barely moist; never going so dry that they wilt, but never staying wet. For best results, do not repot while blooming.
Occasionally this time of year, tender hydrangea varieties can be found for sale. One of these is the “Shooting Star Hydrangea.” It has beautiful blooms that look like heads of sparkling stars falling from the plant. Where these plants are hardy (USDA zone 7 and warmer), they are able to be planted outdoors in the spring. Keeping them looking good indoors is possible in the cold northern climate as long as you have access to a cool east-facing window. Hydrangeas will bloom for an extended period of time as long as they are not allowed to go dry to the point where they wilt. Keeping these plants in a well-lit cool location and watering when the surface of the soil feels dry to the touch will keep them looking beautiful for months. As the blooms fade, snip them off, leaving the fresh ones to carry on. High heat will cause the blooms to dry and shorten the lifespan of the plant.
If you went for a more contemporary touch and decided to celebrate with orchids, you could be enjoying blooms for months with proper care. The best advice for keeping these looking good is to know what you have. Likely, you purchased a phalaenopsis. Keeping these looking good for an extended period really comes down to benign neglect. Consistent bright light near an east window without hot direct sunlight is best. Erratic temperature or humidity shifts will cause buds to drop and will shorten bloom life. Other varieties of orchids will all have their own specific needs but will hold their blooms under this same general care.
One thing to remember when caring for a holiday plant is this: you bought this plant to enjoy it. If that poinsettia starts to look tired in January or the cyclamen only lasts a month, there’s no reason to stress. It served its purpose well and it is okay to let it go. Spring bulbs will be available soon and you will want the space!