If you are like me, you enjoy giving as well as receiving Christmas presents that provide weeks or even months of enjoyment. And as a member of the "green industry" I like to support local businesses by giving live plants as holiday gifts.
Three such favorite plants are poinsettias, Christmas cactus and Thanksgiving cactus. All are a wonderful way to share holiday spirit as well as challenge the gardening skills of the receiver. So if you have been charged with caring for one of these holiday plants, here are some tips for success.
Modern poinsettia varieties stay attractive for a long time if given proper care. Place your poinsettia in a sunny window or the brightest area of the room, but do not let it touch cold window panes. The day temperature should be 65 degrees to 75 degrees and 60 degrees to 65 degrees at night. Temperatures above 75 degrees will shorten bloom life and those below 60 degrees may cause root rot.
Do not place the plant on top of a television set because the plant will get too warm. Move plants away from windows at night or draw drapes between them to avoid damage from the cold.
Poinsettias are somewhat finicky when it comes to soil moisture. Avoid overwatering as poinsettias do not like "wet feet." On the other hand, if the plant is allowed to wilt, it will drop leaves.
Examine the potting soil daily by sticking your finger about an inch deep into the soil. If it is dry to this depth, the plant needs water. When it becomes dry to the touch, water the plant with lukewarm water until water runs out of the drainage hole, then discard the excess water.
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) and Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) are epiphytes native to the jungles of South America. Epiphytic plants grow on other plants and use them for support but not nutrients.
Though these cacti are different species, they will hybridize and produce varying stem shapes. A Christmas cactus normally has smooth stem segments, while a Thanksgiving cactus has hooklike appendages on each segment.
These cacti prefer bright indirect light. Too much sun can cause yellow leaves. Common household temperatures are fine. The soil should be kept constantly moist but not waterlogged. Give them a light fertilization every other week.
Blooming will normally cease in late winter to early spring, but continue to keep them moist and fertilized until fall. During the fall, stop fertilizing and give the plants only enough water so the stems do not shrivel in order to encourage flower bud formation.
Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.