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Ask a Master Gardener: Indoor festive plants

November 18, 2018

Question: Are plants I can grow indoors that will provide festive color during the holidays?

Answer: Houseplants are a nice addition to any home and blooming ones during the holidays can be extra special. There are quite a few plants that will provide festive color, adding unique blooms to the holiday decor. Below are a few plants that are readily available in our area.

Cyclamen

The cheery little cyclamen plant can be found in garden supplies stores, florists and grocery stores beginning in the fall. They come in shades of pink, red or white; even the foliage is pretty, dark green heart shaped leaves, and some have silver markings. There are hardy varieties that will grow outdoors, but for indoor plants they are typically Cyclamen persicum, or Florist’s Cyclamen.

It is native to southern europe and North Africa near the Mediterranean; in its natural settings they will bloom in late winter or early spring, but the greenhouse cyclamen are forced to bloom around the holidays.

Cyclamen are fairly easy to grow, preferring bright, indirect light and cooler temperatures; ideal daytime temperatures are 60-65 degrees and around 50 degrees at night. The individual flowers and blooming season will be prolonged if plants are kept cooler. To encourage more flowers, remove spent blooms by twisting the stem and pulling sharply to remove it from the base. Water when the soil feels dry, about an inch below the surface, but avoid watering the crown or center of the plant, which may rot if kept too wet. An easy option is bottom watering — standing the pot in water for 15 minutes.

Hippeastrum, “Amaryllis”

Although commonly known as amaryllis, its correct name is Hippeastrum, of the Amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae) native to tropical regions of South America. The large, trumpet-shaped blooms of this plant make it an eye-catching addition to holiday decor; the blooms come in a variety of colors, including red, pink, salmon, white and multi-colored. The large flowers are six- to ten-inches long and form atop tall stems (18-24 inches), which are followed by long, strappy green leaves at the base of the stem.

This time of the year the plant can be found in garden and gift stores as loose bulbs, in kits, or already potted. They grow fairly quickly, with the flowers appearing six to eight weeks after planting. The tall stalks tend to grow towards the light, so you may need to rotate the pot to keep it straight, or stake the stem. Keep the plant in a sunny location in the house with the temperature above 60 degrees and away from heat sources such as furnace vents and wood stoves. Water to keep the soil barely moist; too much water may cause the bulb to rot.

Holiday Cactus

A favorite of many plant enthusiasts is the holiday cactus, Schlumbergera, also known as Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus because they bloom November to January. There is also a variety known as the Easter cactus because of when it blooms; it is of the Rhipsalidopsis genera. They really are cactus, but not from the desert. Instead they are from the mountainous jungles of Brazil, where they grow on branches high up in the forest.

Based on their native environment, they prefer indoor temperatures of 75-80 degrees and minimum temps of 55-60 degrees, thriving in bright, indirect light as if coming through the tops of the tree canopy. Soil mixture should allow for quick drainage, such as a mix of perlite and peat moss, and they prefer frequent watering as if getting rain in the jungle. Once done blooming it makes an attractive year-round houseplant, and with proper care it will bloom every holiday season.

Poinsettia

And then there is poinsettia, euphorbia pulcherrima, a trusted, bold bloomer of the holiday season. The plant is valued around the world and known by a variety of names — flame-thrower flower, Easter star, lobster flower and crown of the Andes. Native to the mountains of Mexico and Guatemala, it is a subtropical evergreen, or a semi-deciduous shrub. This plant was brought to the United States by the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett. Each year, Dec. 12 is recognized as National Poinsettia Day, the date of Poinsett’s death in 1851.

The showy “flowers” are actually colored bracts (modified leaves). The flowers are the small yellow centers. The bold, red bracts with the dark green leaves are the perfect combination for the holidays; however, there are varieties with bracts of white, cream, salmon, rose, mauve and streaked or mottled. They prefer indoor temps of 60-70 degrees during the day and cooler temps at night, but not below 50 F. They need moist, well-drained soil and cannot tolerate sitting in water; if the pot is wrapped in foil, puncture the foil and use a drip tray, making sure to empty any water.

The addition of blooming indoor plants during the holidays makes a nice compliment to the traditional holiday evergreens, and they also go nicely clustered with potted herbs like rosemary, small ornamental pepper plants, as well as other houseplants.

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