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Healthy Holiday Plants

Tips for Keeping Holiday Plants Healthy
            Several indoor plants are commonly used to com­memorate the holiday season. Poinsettias are the most popular. Two other plants, Norfolk Island pine and holiday cactus are also common. It is important to properly care for these holiday plants to keep them perky. Consider the following tips by Taun Beddes, USU Horticulturist.
Poinsettias are native to Mexico and Central America. In the early 20th cen­tury, a fam­ily in Cali­fornia began cultivating the plant for commercial sale. To keep poinsettias healthy, do not expose them to hot or cold air drafts. Place them in bright, indirect light. Water carefully, as poinsettias die most often from improper wa­tering.
To prevent this, never water a plant while it is sitting in a cellophane decorative sleeve. These sleeves do not allow excess water to drain from the pot and cause the roots to rot. A better method of irrigation is to feel the soil with your finger. When the soil surface feels dry, remove the plant from the sleeve and gently water it in the sink for an hour or so to allow excess water to drain from the soil. It can then be placed back in the decora­tive sleeve until it needs to be wa­tered again.
Norfolk Island pine, commonly called star pine or um­brella pine, is an­other plant often sold for the holiday season. In its native habitat, the mature trees are quite beautiful. The Norfolk Island pine is actually not a true pine but is distantly related. It can easily be grown as a houseplant, and as with most other houseplants, it does not tolerate overwatering. Grow it in indirect, bright light, but not excessive heat. In good conditions, Norfolk Island pine can grow as tall as 10 to 15 feet indoors over a number of years.
The holiday cacti group includes species with names such as Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, and Easter cactus. These names are derived from when the species is intended to bloom. Instead of only blooming during the particu­lar holiday for which they are named, most va­rieties, especially the newer ones, can be induced to flower for the majority of the winter season. The trick is to place plants in ar­eas where they are exposed to night temperatures below 50° to 55° F for six to eight weeks. Cool rooms with bright light or large windows and sliding deck doors are good spots. These cool tem­peratures cause flower bud formation. Turn the plant 180 degrees every two months so the plant blooms for the entire winter sea­son. Irrigate sparingly during the winter and somewhat more in the summer. If fertilizer is needed, apply a quality fertilizer in the spring or summer, not in the winter.
Starting Amaryllis Bulbs for Christmas Blooms
            Of all flowering bulbs, amaryllis is the easiest to bring to bloom.  The amaryllis originated in South America's tropical regions and has the botanical name Hippeastrum.  The large flowers and ease with which they can be brought to bloom make amaryllis popular and in demand worldwide.  The amaryllis comes in many beautiful varieties including various shades of red, white, pink, salmon and orange.  There are also many striped and multicolored varieties, usually combining shades of pink or red with white. Here are some tips by J. Elisa Lauritzen to grow healthy amaryllis.
·      Purchase large, healthy look­ing, blemish free bulbs
·      Pot size should be 2-3 inches wider than the bulb and about 6-8 inches deep
·      Place bulb in loose planting mix with 35-50% of the bulb above soil line
·      Water until soil is saturated; allow water to drain and don't water again until growth begins
·      After new growth begins, keep soil moist but not wet
·      Place in a sunny location that will allow the plant to get at least 4 - 6 hours of light
·      Fertilize once a month
·      Maturing plant may need support stakes.


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