Potted flowering plants always make welcome gifts at Christmas.
But after the holidays, many beautiful plants meet a premature demise through neglect or improper care.
It is important to realize that many potted plants have a limited display life in the home. They should not be considered items that will last indefinitely. The length of this display life will vary, but it is strongly influenced by the environment in which plants are placed and the care they receive.
Plants should generally be placed in well lighted areas (under lamps, near windows and glass doors). Avoid drafts, excess heat from appliances, radiators or heating ducts. Place plants away from traffic and out of reach of children and animals.
Place the pot in or on a waterproof container to protect furnishings. Water the plants thoroughly when the soil is dry to the touch. Discard excess water that collects in the saucer.
Here are a few of the more popular Christmas-gift plants, along with suggestions for their care:
Poinsettia: Poinsettias are without question the most popular Christmas plant. Available in a wide range of colors, sizes and forms, they can last several months indoors with good care. They can be reflowered the following year, but the results are seldom worth the aggravation. When the bracts start to fade or drop, it is usually best just to discard the plant.
Amaryllis: Amaryllis is a popular flowering bulb available in a variety of colors. Bulbs are sometimes sold in flower but more often repotted so that all the recipient need do is water and wait four to six weeks for the flower stalks to emerge. The number of flowers and flower stalks produced by a given bulb depends on the size of the bulb. Each flower lasts three to five days, but since they do not all open at once, plants remain in flower up to three weeks.
Amaryllis can be reflowered successfully, and in our area can be planted outdoors.
Azalea: Azaleas are commonly forced into flower for Christmas bloom. The display life indoors is lengthened by bright light and cool temperatures. Most varieties grown for forcing are not hardy outdoors in our area. Try them outdoors if you wish, but do not count on their surviving. Azaleas are difficult to keep and flower in containers.
Christmas pepper and Jerusalem cherry: Both are grown for their highly decorative and colorful fruit, and both decline rapidly under low light. Christmas pepper is edible but extremely hot; Jerusalem cherry is reportedly poisonous -- keep both away from young children. Christmas pepper should be discarded when it begins to decline; Jerusalem cherry can be reflowered.
Cyclamen: Cyclamen is available in a range of colors, but white and red are most popular at Christmas. Properly cared for, Cyclamen is one of the most satisfactory indoor plants, remaining in flower two to four months. High light and cool temperatures are desirable. Cyclamen requires a rest period before it can reflower.
Christmas cactus: This plant requires moderate light. Bud drop can result from water stress, inadequate light or sudden changes in temperature. Christmas cactus requires more water than most cacti, but it should not be over-watered. Cooler temperature prolong flowering.
Kalanchoe: It is available in many colors. Flowers will last three to six weeks in mild temperatures (65-80 degrees) and medium light, if the plants are kept watered. It can be grown successfully if kept in sunny windows or placed outdoor in late spring.
Sid Mullis is director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County. Call (706) 821-2349 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.