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ASK MARTHA: Caring for my holiday plants

This season often brings new plants to our homes that we both give and receive as presents. Some move in happily as long-term residents; others are best treated as guests. And while seeing old friends is a special pleasure at this time of year, it's even more fun when they turn up with a new look.

Question: Hi Martha, How do I care for my holiday plants and get them to bloom again? 

Martha Stewart: This season often brings new plants to our homes that we both give and receive as presents. Some move in happily as long-term residents; others are best treated as guests. And while seeing old friends is a special pleasure at this time of year, it's even more fun when they turn up with a new look. Poinsettias, for example, don't have to come in red; varieties in creamy white, pink, or yellow, with stripes or marbling, are a treat. Amaryllis' size and color variations can be even more dazzling, and Christmas Cactus have many tempting color variations. 

The gift plants pictured here are reasonably easy to care for, and their visual appeal makes them great holiday decorations. Nevertheless, their specific needs differ, so be sure to treat each plant as an individual, following our basic guidelines.

CHRISTMAS CACTUS

(SCHLUMBERGERA X BUCKLEYI)

A jungle cactus (different from the familiar desert kind), this stalwart can live for decades.

This stunning Christmas Cactus (pictured above) originally belonged to my mother, Big Martha. My late sister, Laura Plimpton found two small stem segments, called cladodes, in the back of a drawer several years after our mother died. We took a chance and planted them, and they thrived. This is the plant now. Laura would have loved it.

CARE 

Provide bright light and room temperatures between sixty and seventy degrees. Water when soil is dry to the touch. Don’t overwater; Christmas Cactus don’t like wet feet. I use a succulent or cacti soil mix for best results, I prefer Miracle-Gro® Cactus, Palm & Citrus Potting Mix.

KEEPING 

In mid-September, start placing in total darkness for fourteen hours nightly for three to four weeks. Temperatures should be cool: in the sixties during the day, the fifties at night. (A dark, cool closet works nicely.) Water sparingly until flower buds form; then return the plant to its regular care conditions.

POINSETTIA

(EUPHORBIA PULCHERRIMA)

While easy to care for, the vivid bracts (which are actually modified leaves, not blooms) are spectacular now but can be very fussy about coloring up again later.

CARE

Provide bright light, preferably near south, east or west facing windows, to receive at least six hours of sunlight daily. Poinsettias like room temperatures between sixty-five and seventy degrees. I always use a well-draining potting mix like Miracle-Gro® Indoor Potting Mix. Make sure to water the soil when it is dry to the touch. 

KEEPING 

In mid-September, start placing your plant in total darkness for fourteen hours nightly for three to four weeks. Temperatures should be cool, in the sixties during the day, the fifties at night. (A dark, cool closet works nicely.) Water sparingly until flower buds form; usually between eight to ten weeks. You can then return your plant to regular care conditions.

AMARYLLIS BULBS

These bulbs give generously, year after year, and ask little in return.

CARE

If you receive an unpotted bulb, plant it in a light, well-drained potting medium such as Miracle-Gro® Indoor Potting Mix with the top-third of the bulb exposed. You can add some sand to the mix to provide a little extra weight in the pot. Water generously.

Grow in bright light (not direct sun); in temperatures between sixty-five to seventy degrees. Let it go nearly dry between waterings. 

Leave your plant in full sun and apply a balanced fertilizer like Miracle-Gro® Blooming Houseplant Food every two weeks. Cut off foliage only when it yellows and flops; remove faded flowers and stems. Stop feeding and gradually stop watering, to encourage dormancy. 

KEEPING 

After the flowers have faded, cut back stems two inches above the bulb. Leave the foliage. Keep in bright light and water regularly. You want the soil to be moist, but not soaking wet. As summer arrives, stop watering and fertilizing completely, and place in a dark, cool location for two to three months. At that time, you can repot with fresh potting mix like Miracle-Gro® Indoor Potting Mix remembering to leave the top one-third of the bulb exposed. Move the bulb to a warm, sunny spot and water. Once it shows signs of growth, resume watering. Repot with fresh medium every two or three years.

If you receive waxed amaryllis bulbs, follow the package directions during the holiday season and then once the blooms are spent, remove the wax, and follow the directions above to keep them for re-blooming next year. Remember to dispose of the wax properly; it is not compostable.


Article by Martha Stewart, as part of the Growing with Martha Stewart partnership.