Florida Gardening by Violette Govan

With the holidays over, you’re left with poinsettias, Christmas cactus, Norfolk Island pines, and geraniums you aren’t sure what to do with. These festive plants are not supposed to die off after the holidays, they’re all beautiful, perennial plants that, with proper care, will continue to grow and bloom for you year after year! Like most houseplants during the cold season, these plants need some extra attention as well. In this article, I will guide you through the process of tending to each ornamental plant so they may live to see next year’s holiday parties!

Poinsettias, or Euphorbia pulcherrima, are vibrant colored shrubs or small trees native to Mexico. Though poinsettias can reach a height of sixteen feet under ideal conditions, they tend to stay between three to four feet in height in our region. During this time of year, your poinsettias should be inside near a window where they can receive indirect sunlight for six hours each day while temperatures fall below sixty degrees. You should water your poinsettias thoroughly when they are dry, but keep in mind that poinsettias do not like to sit in water. Although you might have the urge to fertilize for more blooms, this plant’s true bloom is actually the little whiteish-yellowish bud in the middle of the fancy colored brachs we know and love so much, and it is critical you allow your poinsettia to go through dormancy during winter. Around springtime, prune your poinsettias back to encourage further branching, but make sure to keep a few leaves on each shoot. Towards summer you can fertilize your plant and prepare its new home. If you intend to keep them as a patio plant, find yourself a ten-gallon container, use well-draining potting soil, and set  your potted plant in a shady spot, gradually introducing your plant to full sun. If you decide to plant your poinsettias in the ground, begin by tilling the soil twice as deep as their current containers. Be sure to allow your poinsettias to acclimate to the sun conditions, then transplant your poinsettias into the ground, water until surrounding soil settles, and apply your liquid fertilizer. Once established, prune your poinsettias regularly, taking care to ensure adequate water. Six weeks before you want your poinsettias to bloom again, fertilize with an 8-10-10 fertilizer and remember to shield from night lights. The shorter light cycle triggers blooms.

Christmas cactus, scientific name Schlumbergera bridgessii, can be finnicky. They must be kept somewhere shady, free from too much direct light, between 60 and 70 degrees, and watered thoroughly, allowing time for the soil to dry between each watering. Ensure that the soil never dries out completely or retains too much water. Keep in mind this plant should be fed every few weeks with a mild fertilizer for houseplants. When temperatures get below fifty degrees, bring your Christmas cactus inside or it will turn into mush. Christmas cactus will surprise you with blooms all year long, though they dwindle come fall. If you want your plants to be in bloom for Christmas the following year, cut back on watering and humidity and place it somewhere it can receive cooler temperatures and twelve hours of darkness each day. Allow the plant to go dormant and do not feed for six weeks. When you’re ready for your Christmas cactus to bloom, expose to brighter lights, fertilize, and water appropriately.

When you first come across Norfolk island pines, Araucaria heterophylla, during the holiday season, you might describe them as a “Charlie Brown Christmas tree”, or like tiny Christmas trees, but don’t let their presently small stature fool you! While they may look cute and innocent now, ask yourself whether you’re prepared to potentially have a two-hundred-foot-tall tree in your backyard. When kept as a houseplant, saplings will only grow to the size of the container, but once in the ground, Norfolk Island pines will grow seemingly exponentially. And even though this plant is called a pine, it’s actually an ornamental conifer, which is just a fancy way of saying it reproduces through the seeds found within its cones. The only special care you should give this stunning, evergreen plant is a nice, sunny location and adequate water. Really, this plant thrives best when otherwise left alone.

Last but not least, you’ve seen hanging baskets, flower beds, and window boxes packed with what are commonly referred to as geraniums, from the genus Pelargonium. There are hundreds of varieties, with colors ranging between white and red to exotic orange or purple, but the guidelines for care are all relatively the same. Geraniums grow best in our fall and winter, but the heat of our summers can kill them. I’ve had the most luck keeping them in containers during the summer and placing them in heavy shade where it’s a few degrees cooler. Geraniums showing signs of heat stress should be watered thoroughly, deadheading the old blooms as needed to encourage fuller, healthier plants. If you take care to protect your geraniums during the summer, you will find yourself with better-looking plants than those sold in stores come fall. Around October, you can transplant your geraniums into your landscape, being sure to remove old foliage and pinching the stems periodically to promote blooms in time for Veterans Day. If you want your geraniums to push out clusters of brilliant new blooms in time for the holidays, begin fertilizing with a liquid fertilizer during the fall.

With some tender loving care and a little bit of luck, your holiday plants will be at their prime next year, and you may even save yourself a bit of cash you can put towards gifts! If you have a passion, enjoy the challenge, or otherwise appreciate gardening you’ll be just as inclined to care for your plants during the cooler months just as you would in the summer. Afterall, it’s the time of year to show everything a little extra love and to remember that without plants -we wouldn’t be here!