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Enjoy Holiday Plants All Year

Check out these tips for keeping poinsettias, Christmas cactus and holly looking beautiful all year round.

Poinsettias, Christmas cactus and holly bring color and life to holiday celebrations, and they can all be kept alive from year to year. Here's a look at what it takes:

Poinsettias

With more than 100 varieties, poinsettias come in a variety of colors, including red, pink, white and even gold. Here are some tips for choosing and caring for a poinsettia:

  • Choose a plant that’s about twice as tall as the diameter of the pot. Look for a well-formed, round, full shape and good color in the leaves.
  • Make sure the bracts are completely colored, with no green tips. Brown edges may indicate damage from improper handling, overfertilization, cold or excessive heat.
  • Look for flowers (the small yellow nubs at the center of the foliage) that are fresh -- and either green- or red-tipped -- and not covered with pollen. Yellow leaves or loss of lower leaves can indicate that the plant is suffering from dryness.
  • Check the soil. If it's wet and the plant is wilted, this may be a sign of root rot.
  • In USDA Zones 5 or anywhere the temperature is below 50 degrees, make sure the plant is completely covered when you take it out of the store.
  • Remove the plastic protective covering when you get home. Plants left covered deteriorate quickly.

  • Keep poinsettias in a spot where daytime temperatures are 60 and 70 degrees and the nighttime low is about 55 degrees.
  • Place the plant in a sunny window, but be sure no leaves touch the window.
  • Keep the plant away from drafts and heat sources.
  • Check the soil daily. Water when dry, and make sure the container has proper drainage.
  • To add cut poinsettias to flower arrangements, sear the cut ends for a few seconds with a flame or boiling water. You can also soak the stem in ice water for several minutes. Doing this will help them last up to 10 days.

    It's possible to keep your poinsettia year after year, but it takes work to force its dormancy in the fall. Here's how to do it:

    1. Fertilize it with a houseplant fertilizer once a month after the holidays. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers that can promote leggy, weak growth in winter.
    2. Slowly reduce watering until the soil is nearly bone dry.
    3. In February or March, prune the stems back to a height of three inches. Remove leaves and repot the plant into a container that’s 2 to 3 inches bigger than the original container.
    4. After all danger of frost has passed, leave the plant outdoors until fall.
    5. Around October 1, bring the plant indoors and force dormancy with 15 hours of total darkness each day. The plant can receive light during the day.
    6. Around Thanksgiving, bring your plant out and it will begin to bloom.

    Christmas cactus

    Christmas cactus needs excellent drainage, several hours of bright light a day, medium temperature and medium to high humidity. To increase the amount of indirect light it receives, line whatever the plant sits on with aluminum foil. Water it thoroughly when the top half of the soil feels dry to the touch, and discard excess water.

    Here are some tips for long-term care:

  • After the holidays, keep Christmas cactus in a sunny indoor spot or a semi-shady area outdoors.
  • In February and March, keep it at 55 degrees, and water it infrequently.
  • In fall, reintroduce the plant to the indoors slowly, gradually increasing the amount of time it spends inside.
  • Force the plant to rebloom in much the same way as you would a poinsettia, keeping it in total darkness from early October through Thanksgiving.

  • Holly

    Holly bushes can be planted in the garden for year-round color. You’ll have to be patient, though, as cultivation can take two years. Here’s how to do it:

    1. Squeeze the seed from the berry and place it in a stratification consisting of a layer of sand covered with a mulch of evergreen needles.
    2. Put it outside. The alternate thawing and freezing will crack the seeds.
    3. Toward spring, plant the seeds outside in a semi-shaded location.

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