If you were fortunate enough to receive a blooming holiday plant this year, you may be wondering just how to best care for it and how to keep it going on for next year. Poinsettias, Christmas cactus, amaryllis and Norfolk Island pine are among the most popular holiday plants during the month of December. Simply said, watering, fertilizing, sunshine, temperature control and cutting back techniques are not all the same for every plant.
While sunshine is an important factor in growing most blooming plants, it is not really a necessity in maintaining these plants once they are blooming. In many cases blooming plants, while in full bloom are no longer growing, they are simply blooming. Therefore fertilizer should be completely stopped, watering should be closely watched and a "full-sun" window is no longer required.
Poinsettias are a great example of a plant with most of these changes in growing habits. In fact, we stop the fertilizer as soon as we see good color, usually by the first of November. Watering is no longer as regular as it once had been, allowing the poinsettia to get drier between waterings. Direct sun is no longer essential (although it doesn't hurt) as the plant fills out into full bloom. Temperature remains the same as any household temp and growing does not start up again until after the plant is cut-back, usually to half its height. Cutting back can be anytime in January, February, March, or even much later.
Christmas cactus need to have waterings slowed way down when flower buds appear. In fact, let them get pretty dry between waterings. Never allow them or any other plant to sit in water (with the exception of the African violet) as root-rot may occur. After they are finished blooming, ignore them for at least 30 days-no water. The best time to cut-back Christmas cactus and re-pot them is the month of March but remember, they perform best when they are root-bound so grow them all summer and do not re-pot again later.
Amaryllis Bulbs are pretty easy to grow as long as they were stored and prepared properly in September. If you received one already in bloom, then you could assume that it is on the proper schedule. This is a plant that requires a lot of sun mostly for helping it to grow straight and short. That is correct, a plant that receives lots of sun grows a stronger root system and tends to be shorter. In the case of the amaryllis, shorter is better. Once the blooms fade, cut them way back and continue growing the foliage all year long, right up until September first when it is time to cut them back and put them into storage for 6 to 8 weeks. A properly cared for amaryllis bulb can last you forever.
Norfolk Island pines do not bloom but they make an interesting house that is somewhat easy to grow inside as long as you can provide ample light. This plant really needs the sun. It is not an outside winter plant but rather a warm weathered tropical plant that doesn't like temperatures below 60 degrees. Because it doesn't bloom, you may think that fertilizer is necessary for continued healthy growth but it is not during the winter months. In fact, I strongly recommend no use of fertilizers during the winter months on any of your houseplants. Start again towards the end of March or early April...not before. And you may never cut off the top of a Norfolk Island pine.