It’s time for holiday plants! 

The Amaryllises (Hippeastrum) and Christmas or Holiday Cacti (Schlumbergera) are among the favorites appearing in great numbers this year. Courtesy photo

The Amaryllises (Hippeastrum) and Christmas or Holiday Cacti (Schlumbergera) are among the favorites appearing in great numbers this year. Each can perk up our spirits during the dark cold days and both have relatively easy care. I have had several of each of these beautiful bloomers for many years and will share with you tips for each to produce blooms and longevity. 

My Thanksgiving cactuses surprised me the other day with their first bloom buds! Thanksgiving cactuses? These are generally sold as a Christmas or Holiday cactuses, but they are different varieties of the Thanksgiving cactus or Zygocactus (Schlumbergera truncata). The “true” Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) originated about 150 years ago in England and is a common houseplant but not often available. The cacti are similar in appearance as the stem segments of both are flattened, specialized stems that are part stem and part leaf, called cladodes. The stem segments of the true Christmas cactus have scalloped margins while those of the Thanksgiving cacti are pointed. Holiday cacti are available in a wide range of colors including red-orange, salmon, deep rose, red, lilac, yellow, and white.  

Keep the plants in bright, indirect sunlight. Direct sun will cause the flowers to fade. For best results, keep your cactus away from heaters and fireplaces or frequent drafts. Big changes in temperature can cause the blooms to drop off before they open, and they will blossom longer at cooler temperatures. The optimal temperature is 68oF. Once the plant has bloomed and dropped its flowers, continue to grow it as a houseplant. Keep it in bright light and water only when the soil becomes thoroughly dry. These plants don’t enjoy overwatering or sitting in water but do like to be misted. Your plants may surprise you and bloom more than once a year! 

Some gardeners place their plants outdoors after last frost. If you do, choose a protected, shady location, with bright light, and continue to water and feed. Holiday cacti are short day plants, meaning they set their flower buds as days shorten in the fall. If you placed the plants outdoors, leave them out for as long as possible to take advantage of the cool temperatures. If you kept the plant indoors, you might move it to a cool dark room to initiate flower bud formation. 

They are fun to share! Propagation is easy. Select healthy stem segments about 3-4” long. Cut pieces off the main plant. Let the piece rest to callus a bit, then insert into your moist potting soil, about an inch deep. Delay watering until you start to see signs of new leaves growing out of the tips. Plant multiple cuttings in a pot for a nice plant and more flowers to enjoy. 

The Amaryllis is another popular plant during the holidays. It may be purchased potted, bagged, boxed, and even waxed! They, like the holiday cacti, come in many beautiful colors, both solid and variegated. If you buy a bulb get the largest one you can find. The larger bulbs generally produce more and larger blooms. Plant it according to the directions included. Soon it will start growing and blooming. Keep the blooming amaryllis in a relatively cool location to keep flowers longer. Bright light is not necessary unless there is an abundance of foliage. Watering, however, is necessary, but be sure the pot drains well. Note: check your pot for drainage holes; if none, add some. 

You can keep your amaryllis bulbs for years. Remove the withered blooms and stalks immediately after blooming but do not cut off the leaves. Keep the plant in sunlight and water as needed. I use one or two drops of soluble fertilizer, a weak solution, every other week when watering. Once the danger of frost is over, you can put the pot outside, plant the bulb in the soil, or sink the pot into the soil up to the rim. Choose a location that receives adequate sunlight but some shade in the hottest part of the day. Apply soluble houseplant fertilizer every two weeks. This allows the bulb to replenish its reserves and produce buds for another season of bloom. But it may surprise you and bloom again in the summer! 

Some growers recommend that late summer or early fall, you withhold water, allowing the foliage to die down. Trim the foliage off and take the pots to a cool, dark, dry basement. Some amaryllis need a two to three-month rest period. Do not water or fertilize during this time. Inspect it often and when buds begin to push out, place the pot in a sunny warm window and water well. Once in flower, put the plants in a cooler location. 

My two amaryllises have been with me for several years and have surprised me with blooms in the spring again and later in the summer after they were outdoors. I re-potted both of my amaryllises when I brought them in, their bulbs and pups had outgrown their pots. They will rest for a while before blooming again due to the disturbance of re-potting. I won’t feed or water them until I see signs of growth, they reside in the cooler plant room. I have experimented treating them as house plants year-round with a summer outing. They may not bloom at holiday time this year but bloom they will in their own good time. 

To find more information on these holiday plants, try www.iGrow.org! Contact the Northern Hills Master Gardeners at northernhillsmastergardeners@yahoo.com or find us on Facebook for more gardening information.

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