If you have evergreens in your yard, you can cut branches of hollies, junipers, and nandinas now for holiday decorations. You’re actually pruning them, so take branches that don’t ruin the shape of the plant. If their stems are kept in water, most will hold up nicely throughout the season. Nandina will probably drop its berries in a week or two, though the green leaves should stay attractive for several weeks.
And what to do about the flowering holiday plants that look so beautiful now? Some kinds can be kept and brought back into bloom next year. Others are better enjoyed once and then tossed (preferably into an inconspicuous corner of the garden or a compost pile rather than into the landfill). Good ones to keep for another year are Christmas cactus, amaryllis, and cyclamen. Christmas cactus is the easiest of the lot. It really is a cactus, but not from the desert. Keep it moist (not wet) and give it some light. In the summer put it outdoors in the shade until nights are in the 40s. Keep it away from bright lights when the days shorten. The cool weather and long nights help it set buds. When you bring it indoors, put it in a light, not-too-hot location – and enjoy. With this treatment mine usually flower around Thanksgiving.
Florist’s cyclamen wants to be cold (but not frozen). If you have a drafty window put it there and it may thrive for several months; keep it quite damp. When it’s through flowering and starts looking shabby let it go dormant – almost dry. Put it outdoors in shade for the summer, and when it starts to sprout new leaves water it and bring indoors before frost. Success here depends on having a spot that’s quite cold; otherwise it will flop in a couple of weeks.
For amaryllis, I think every grower uses a slightly different technique. Mine thrive to the point where I have bulbs to share with friends every few years, so go for it! The National Arboretum has step-by-step instructions. Unlike the others, poinsettia is a plant to enjoy and then let go. It’s theoretically possible to re-flower it next winter, but it’s difficult and the results typically aren’t worth the effort. Most of the plants you find will have been forced and treated with growth regulators so that they stay short and bloom on time. If you keep your plant watered and not too warm it will hold its bracts (the red part isn’t really a flower) until spring – long after you’re tired of it. After the weather is warm, I use mine for green foliage in a bare spot in the garden, and in October or November the frost takes it.
As always, thanks to Marge LaMar for finding the clip art.
By guest blogger, Jessica Milstead. Jessica has been a Charles County Master Gardener since 2002 and is certified to elevate gardens and landscapes for their adherence to Bay-Wise principles.