Watch Kath Smyth on Global Calgary for her seasonal plants care tips.

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera buckleyi) care

Christmas cactii are epiphytic succulents native to the tropical rain forests of Brazil. Many Christmas cactii sold are actually a hybrid of Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti which typically bloom from November to February.

Christmas cactii should be placed in bright, indirect light. While the plant will tolerate low light, it will bloom more readily with brighter light. During the periods of active growth in spring and summer, water well once the top 1/3 of the soil is dry. Don’t let it sit in any excess water or it may rot. Fertilize every 2 weeks. The plant prefers temperatures between 15 and 21°C (60 – 70°F) and average to high humidity.

Blooming is triggered by cool temperatures and long nights. To make your cactus bloom, provide a 6 to 8 week period with average temperatures between 10 and 15°C (50-55°F) and about 14 hours of darkness each day. Reduce watering during this period, although if the plant dries out too much once it starts flowering the buds may drop. Fertilize monthly in the fall and winter. Keep the plant away from drafts, warm or cold.

Prune the cactus by removing up to 1/3 of the plant after blooming to encourage branching. The cactus flowers from the ends of the stems, so more stems means more flowers!

How do I keep my seasonal greens fresh?

Fresh cut greens make a great addition to Christmas and seasonal décor for both indoor and outdoor projects. Materials, sunlight, humidity, and heat will all contribute to how long they last. Pine, cedar, spruce, and juniper last much longer than cut flowers. To keep seasonal greens looking good for as long as possible, there are a few simple tricks. Choose materials that are fresh. Fresh evergreens are fragrant, have firm well-adhered needles, and are flexible. Rehydrate greens before using them by trimming the ends and submerging the greenery in water for at least 24 hours. If you can’t submerge the whole piece, soak the cut ends and as much of the stem as possible. After soaking, spray the greens with an anti-desiccant to help lock the moisture in. After the arrangement is made, check the water reservoir daily and top up as needed. If possible, every couple of days move the arrangement to a water-safe location and spritz. Avoid placing the arrangements near fireplaces, heating vents, drafts, or in direct sunlight as these environments will accelerate moisture loss. If the projects are displayed in a warm location, placing them in a cooler area at night will help keep them fresh. Wreaths and arrangements displayed indoors will last up to three weeks. Outdoors they can last for three to six weeks.

How do I grow an amaryllis bulb?

In early November, plant amaryllis bulbs to have them bloom mid-December. Use the tips below to help you be successful:

  • Soak the roots and lower third of the bulb in water for an hour or two before planting to help it hydrate.
  • Plant the bulb in a heavy pot a bit larger in diameter than the bulb. The pot should be heavy to anchor the plant on its display surface so it doesn’t topple over when the heavy blooms appear.
  • Plant the bulb so that the top third is exposed.
  • When you see growth starting fertilize with a fertilizer that has a high middle number (phosphorous) such as 15-30- 15.Fertilize again when the blooms start to appear.
  • Use a moisture meter to check the moisture level of the soil around the roots. Only water if that area is dry.

Amaryllis plants can live 70 to 80 years, so keep the bulbs to grow again. In late spring, bring the plants outside. Bring them inside again between late August to early September and store them in a cool dark place for five weeks. When it’s time to bring them out of storage, repot or top dress the pots with compost.

For more information, watch the Member Talk: Growing Amaryllis! video posted on the Member Talk page in the Members Only area of the website.

The University of Minnesota Extension has an excellence webpage offering tips for growing and caring for amaryllis. Visit the page: Amaryllis.

Poinsettia Care

How do I care for Poinsettias?

A traditional flowering plant at Christmas, today’s poinsettia is available in several shades ranging from white, pale pink to deep red. The poinsettia was named for Joel Poinsettia (1755-1851), gardener, botanist and diplomat of South Carolina. He was the first American ambassador to Mexico (1824) and introduced the plants to his Charleston, S.C., friends in 1833. 

Care Tips:

  • Select poinsettia plants with green foliage extending all the way down to the soil line.
    This is a good indication that the plants have active, healthy roots.
  • Look for plants that have small green buttons (cyathia) in the centre of the coloured bracts.
    These buttons will eventually develop into little yellow flowers.
  • Protect plants from temperatures under 10 ° C (50 ° F). Chilling causes the leaves to drop.
  • Place plants in a room with there is sufficient natural light.
    Poinsettias must have at least six hours of bright indirect light per day.
  • Water plants thoroughly after purchase. Discard excess water.
    Never allow the plants to sit in water and only water when the soil feels dry to the touch.
  • Keep plants away from drafts, radiators and hot air registers—do not place it on warm surfaces such as a television.

Keeping Your poinsettias

 With a little extra care, it is possible to keep your poinsettia year-round and have it bloom the following Christmas.

 February: Your poinsettia flowers will have faded and lateral growth will have begun.

March: Remove flowers and cut stems to 15 cm (6 in). 

June: Repot plant into a larger pot, if necessary, and plant it outside in the pot. 

July: Pinch all lateral shoots to 7 cm (4 in). You can root the shoots if desired. 

August (towards the end of August): Dig up the pot and bring the plant inside. 

September (middle) until December 1: Keep the poinsettia in light from 8:00 am until 5:00 pm.

Place in a dark place (closet) from 5:00 pm until 8:00 am.

By following these cyclical tips, your poinsettia will return to its full bloom in late December.

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