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Holiday Plants

How to take care of 4 seasonal favorites

Ah, the holidays: the parties and presents, the carols and cocktails, and all the beautiful plants that decorate our homes. Here are a few fun facts and hints about caring for some of the season’s favorites.

Christmas Cactus
Especially when in full bloom, a Christmas cactus is great gift idea to bring to a holiday party. Native to Brazil, this cactus will adapt to low-light conditions but produces more blooms if exposed to brighter light. Placing a tray of pebbles filled with water beneath the cactus’ container, or any of your plants’ containers, is a good way to add more humidity to your home.

When you want to force a Christmas cactus to bloom, begin by limiting the amount of water the plant receives. Cut down on watering just enough to allow the soil to remain slightly moist. This will enable the plant to enter dormancy. Next move the plant to a place where it will receive about 12-14 hours of darkness. The plant will also need cool temperatures about 50-55 degrees (Fahrenheit). That said, my dear friend Kathleen pretty much ignores her gigantic 10-year-old Christmas cactus and every December it blooms riotously on a sunny shelf in her Gentilly kitchen.

Poinsettia
A native of southern Mexico, the poinsettia blooms in December and has been used in that country to decorate churches for centuries. This plant is one of the most important floricultural crops in the country, according to the 2013 USDA Floriculture Statistics report, poinsettias accounted for about one-quarter of sales of all flowering potted plants. In economic terms, that’s $144 million.
Hint: Always remove the plant from those shiny aluminum wrappers before watering, and allow the water to drain completely. Also, don’t place plants near cold drafts or excessive heat.

Amaryllis
These spectacular blooms herald in the holidays with style and panache. In Greek mythology, Amaryllis was a beautiful maiden who longed for the strong handsome shepherd, Alteo. However, her love was unrequited because Alteo loved only flowers. He said he would give his heart to the lady who brought him a brand-new kind of flower. So, Amaryllis dressed in maiden’s white and appeared at his door for 30 nights, each time piercing her heart with a golden arrow. When Alteo eventually opened his door, he discovered a crimson flower, sprung from the blood of Amaryllis’ heart.

After amaryllis bulbs have bloomed don’t throw them out. Snip off the flower stems about 1/2 an inch from the bulb, but don’t cut off the leaves. Then, place your plants in a sunny window. In the spring, move the plant outdoors to leaf out. In mid-autumn, bring your amaryllis back inside, cut off all the foliage about 1 or 2 inches from the top of the bulbs, and place the bulbs in a dry, dark place. Let your amaryllis sleep for 10 to 12 weeks. Then, start the growing cycle over. With good care most amaryllis bulbs will bloom seasonally for years.

Christmas Trees
The first use of Christmas trees as they’re known today dates back to the 1500s. Some claim the tree originated in Germany, others claim it was Latvia. But here’s what we do know, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, there are approximately 25-30 million trees sold in the U.S. every year. There are close to 15,000 farms growing Christmas trees in the U.S. Additionally, if you want to fill your home with the smell of Christmas, many experts say the Fraser Fir is your best choice.

And, remember real Christmas trees keep giving even after the decorations are removed and packed away. They can be recycled at the end of the season for use in wetland protection.

TIPS
Caring for your Christmas Tree: More than half of the weight of a freshly cut Christmas tree’s weight is water.

When you bring your tree home, saw a couple inches off the bottom of the trunk before setting it in water, or ask the people you buy the tree from to do it. When trees are cut, pitch oozes out and seals the pores. By re-sawing off the base, you will open up those pores again, and the tree will be able to absorb water. Then, place your tree in water immediately.
Use a traditional reservoir type stand. As a general rule, stands should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter.
Don’t whittle the sides of the trunk down to fit a stand. The outer layers of wood are the most efficient in taking up water and should not be removed.

Keep trees away from major sources of heat (fireplaces, heaters, heat vents, and
direct sunlight).

Lowering the room temperature will slow the drying process, resulting in less water consumption each day.

 

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