Start thinking about holiday plants

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

It may seem odd, but now’s the time to think about holiday blooming plants. Granted, it's still October, but these next two months are crucial for holiday plants such as Christmas cactus, poinsettia and amaryllis.

The waiting is the hardest part

Amaryllis can be finicky plant. It’s one that many gardeners secretly discard after it blooms and the leaves grow and grow and grow, and then start flopping all over the place. Yet once you understand the secret of the bulb, there can be years of enjoyment.

Most gardeners stick their bulbs outside for the summer, where the foliage can tolerate dry conditions, as long as they’re in the shade and humidity is somewhat high. Watering and fertilizing helps, but pests are relatively nonexistent, and if you stick the amaryllis among other plants, you may just forget about them. Until now.

The key to successful blooming comes down to one word: dormancy. Well, that and one other word: patience.

Start by taking the plants down to the basement, or put them in a closet. The cooler the better, though a refrigerator is too cold. If all goes well, the leaves will start to turn yellow and die. That’s good. That’s what you want. Once the leaves start to turn yellow, leave them on as long as possible.

Now comes the waiting period. It’s important to keep the bulb in the dark and on the cool side. Eight weeks is ideal, though 10 weeks is better. It doesn’t hurt to go 12 to 15 weeks. Mark your calendar.

In eight to 10 weeks, repot the bulb in fresh soil; water and place in a bright window. If the plants achieved dormancy, they’ll start blooming. That’s when you can pump your fist in the air and say, “Yes. I can do it.”


Poinsettias should have started the flowering process about a month ago, but likely you still can get some red leaves by Christmas if you remember that plants need absolute darkness from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. That means a dark room. Or a closet. Or a dark box that you place over the plant in the afternoon and remove it the following morning.

During the day, give the plants as much light as possible. Make sure the soil is kept sponge-moist, but not soggy. Fertilize monthly (be careful not to overdo it) with a houseplant fertilizer.

You may have to pinch the plant to keep it from getting too leggy. However, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, let the plant go. Soon you’ll see the new leaves start to develop the colors associated with the plant.

Christmas cactus

Then there’s the Christmas cactus, which can be easier than the poinsettia to force into bloom, and less frustrating because if they don’t bloom by Christmas, few people care. A poinsettia that blooms in January, on the other hand, is about a worthwhile as an Easter lily in May.

Photoperiod, like the poinsettia, also is key to the Christmas cactus, which is another short-day plant, meaning that it prefers at least 14 to 16 hours of darkness a night to set flower buds.

So place it in the same room as the poinsettia, the same closet or under the same box.

There is one other condition that can force the Christmas cactus into bloom — cool nights.

Night temperatures in the lower 50s can set the flower buds, even if the plants don’t get the required darkness. Give these plants at least a couple of months of cool night temperatures while you’re snuggling under an extra blanket and comforters on the bed.

David Robson is a horticulture educator for the University of Illinois Extension.


- According to custom, the mistletoe must not touch the ground between its cutting and its removal as the last of Christmas greens at Candlemas.

- Some customs say mistletoe should remain hung throughout the year, often to preserve the house from lightning or fire. It is replaced the following Christmas Eve.

- Any two people who meet under a hanging of mistletoe are obliged to kiss. The custom is Scandinavian in origin.

- Mistletoe has been mentioned in numerous songs, including “I'll Be Home for Christmas,” "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" and "A Holly Jolly Christmas."