Thursday, February 4, 2016

Caring for Wintertime Blooming Interior Plants by Jan Boone

Perhaps you’re looking outside at the snow banks in your yard, anxious for spring, yet feeling hopeless over the fading blooms and dried leaves on potted plants in your kitchen window? These may include Poinsettias, Amaryllis , a “Moth Orchid”, Christmas cactus or even a late fall Cyclamen?  Can these be saved before a new miniature Rose or Gardenia arrives at Valentine’s Day to join the ranks of green treasures already needing your attention?  Here are some care tips for a few favorite gift plants that can bring color into our lives this time of year.

Poinsettias – Introduced into this country in 1828, it’s come to be the symbol of the holiday season. If you’ve traveled in Mexico, you’ve no doubt seen these colorful  plants along roadsides and in yards.  Take  note … this is a tropical  plant!  The plant’s colors come from the red bracts (modified leaves) that provide the color that attracts us.  These are found under the tiny yellow, bead-like clusters of true flowers on the central stem axis.  The flowers have a pistil, stamen and nectar gland that attracts insects . Break the stem and you’ll see the sap which is a milky white, not poisonous for human skin  but can be an irritant to some and definitely  toxic if ingested…same is true for pets, so best to keep them away.   Leaves normally drop in late winter or early Spring.  This is the time for pruning in order to keep a well shaped plant.  Work towards  cutting 4” above bracts on blooming stalks.  Access to a hothouse would provide the humidity this plant needs , plus a constant temperature  of 60-70 degrees  that will not fluctuate.   Monthly  fertilization w/water soluble plant fertilizer is desirable.  Further information on prepping the plant for fall blooming can be found online.

Amaryllis – The queen of blooming holiday bulbs! Much has been done to hybridize these into giant blossoms  providing variations in color.  I have been successful in keeping a bulb healthy into the summer  months only once, so once again diligence is required.  I know of gardeners in Denver who keep these bulbs and enjoy yearly bloom display at the holidays as a result of their efforts.  Once a stalk has stopped blooming and the blossom has died back, you may cut it back even  with the top of the bulb.  Do not cut back leaf stalks, as this is how the bulb re-charges  for the next  year’s  growth. The  main growth season is late winter and early Spring when the emphasis is on leaf production.  Look for lots of light to keep  encouraging growth.  Be sure to fertilize monthly w/a liquid fertilizer.  Interior bulbs do best on a bed of pebbles allowing a foothold for roots and added humidity.  Never let the bulb dry out. Potted bulbs  can go outside in a sunny, (PROTECTED place as we move towards Spring and summer. Monthly  fertilizer can be amped up to every 2 weeks at this point. Bulbs can stay outside until late August, but then require a more dormant period of activity with less light and cooler temps, but protection from frost.  Leaves will drop after an 8-10 week period  of dormancy before you should see the green tip of new growth starting to appear at top of bulb at this time.   Increase water and  light  for holiday blooming.

Phalaenopsis with bud stalk
Phalaenopsis aerial roots
‘Moth’ Orchids - (otherwise known as  Phalaenopsis to true orchid lovers).  These are the bright little blooms on  a long stalk growth, with flat green leaves at the base.  The stalk will die back and can be cut after the last bloom drops.  You see these plants  frequently at the grocery or box store during winter months.  This particular orchid is relative easy to grow and the blooms may last up to several weeks under  the right conditions.  The key is they do require your attention!  The potting medium cannot be soil.  You will usually see small bark or pebbles used.  This is so the root structure can get water and air can circulate around the roots and potting medium to assure good drainage. The roots are aerial and can be lightly misted when you water the plant.  A good clue is when you see these roots shriveling or drying, the plant is not being watered enough.  You need to see plump, light green roots.  If they begin to get mushy or you see a moldy fuzz, you are watering too much and roots are rotting.  These plants like diffused early morning light, NO DIRECT SUNLIGHT.  Some degree of humidity is nice.  Mine does well above the kitchen sink.  You can always try the bathroom by a tub or shower as long as there is ample light.  Water every 2-3 weeks and adjust accordingly as you watch the roots and bloom stalk.  Use a 20-20-20 base fertilizer.  Don’t overwater, letting water stand  or pool between leaves, will only promote drainage and potential rot problems.  Be sure you are just watering the potting medium.

Christmas Cactus – Despite the familiar cactus family name you  associate with more arid surroundings, this is actually a fleshy, more tropical cacti.  It requires a rich porous soil, including sand and some peat moss.  It needs weekly watering which should be cut back before it’s bloom time.  Bud drop is caused by overwatering, lack of humidity and insufficient light.  Stalks can be pruned back to 2nd or 3rd leaf joint after blooming.  It require cool night temperatures ( 50-60 degrees prior to blooming, as well as a period of darkness  for dormancy. Use a 20-20-20 fertilizer during growth and bloom time.

Cyclamen -  This plant is native to the Mediterranean and Southern Europe. It grows  from a corm (fleshy root stalk, in lieu of a true  bulb) and can be saved.  It requires a rich, porous soil. The container grown gift plant is different from the hardier nursery  plants that are grown as bedding accents for more favorable climates/zones.  It requires partial shade and moderate to cool  temperatures.  NO DIRECT SUN!   When the corm stops blooming, usually late Fall in our zone, it’s time for a winter rest. ( Note – depending upon variety, dormancy may start in mid summer.)    Partial shade for this plant and cool temperatures are best for container plants at this time.  Fertilize with water soluble fertilizer.
Fading Fall Cyclamen
Once you begin to see the success of your efforts you can look forward to spending more time with the seed catalogs now arriving in your mail and maybe even plan on  adding a summer blooming plant to your  window sill next winter …  like my favorite Lantana.  Good Luck!!

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