There it is: The brilliantly colored poinsettia that called out to you on your last trip to the garden center. “I’ll brighten your office or living room,” the vivid red poinsettia promised from its green foil wrapper. Or maybe it was a flamboyant pink Christmas cactus or red-and-white flowered amaryllis that pledged to add to the holiday spirit around your house.
Now, as you stare into the bright bracts and blossoms, you are wondering if the plant will live through the holiday season. The poinsettia you purchased last year (and maybe the year before) looked a little pitiful after just a few weeks, and you are a little unsure about what you could have done differently.
The staff at Sunrise Garden Center offer several straightforward tips for caring for poinsettias and other popular winter-flowering plants, and horticulturists with Kansas State University agree that these simple methods will help keep your plants perky for seasons to come.
Tip No. 1
Water your plant only when the soil is dry. The easiest way to determine this is to stick a finger about an inch into the soil to feel for moisture below the surface. Potting soil is like a sponge, so if the soil dries completely it can be very difficult to re-wet. Constant watering is also a poor option unless the soil constantly dries. Water fills air space in the soil, and too much moisture will deplete roots of necessary oxygen.
Tip No. 2
Take the plant out of the shiny decorative wrapper and place it a sink or saucer to water. Add water until it flows from the bottom of the flower pot, and allow it to drain before placing the plant back in the wrapper. If using a saucer, discard the excess water that collects in the saucer.
Tip No. 3
Give plants adequate light. Most winter-flowering plants, including poinsettias, holiday cacti and amaryllis, prefer bright but indirect sunlight for at least six hours a day. The hallway or corner of your desk is probably too dark for a winter plant, although you may be able to keep one there for a short time before moving it back to the window.
Tip No. 4
Keep plants away from entryways. Even though you want visitors to see the bright holiday colors as soon as they enter a room, a cold breeze can send a poinsettia into major shock. Also, avoid placing plants near furnace vents, fireplaces, drafty windows and other places where rapid temperature fluctuations can occur. If transporting a poinsettia or cactus outdoors, place the plant in a plastic bag to protect it from the cold.
Tip No. 5
A little fertilizer, applied every other watering, provides much needed resources for poinsettias, holiday cacti and amaryllis. Use a general purpose fertilizer and apply it at half the rate recommended on the label while plants are in bloom.
Tip No. 6
If you plan on giving a poinsettia as a gift to your non-gardening friends, a tip sheet might be helpful.
— Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension Agent – Horticulture and can be reached at 843-7058.