Written by Susan B.
Since we devote the lion’s share of our posts to outdoor topics, we decided to change things up a bit. And there is no better time than the holiday season to think about using green and flowering plants to spice up the décor throughout your home. As an added advantage, there are all sorts of health and environmental benefits of having plants inside your home. If you haven’t finished your holiday shopping and need gifts for special people on your list, consider giving them one of the plants we’re about to suggest. The gift of an indoor plant will last long after the holiday season.
Paperwhites may be less familiar than Amaryllis and Poinsettias, but they are no less a part of the holiday season than Amaryllis or Poinsettias. Paperwhites are often sold in gift packages that include a forcing face or a container and planting medium. Whether you’re growing them in water or a planting mix, place the bulbs in a bright and sunny spot where the temperatures are consistently cool. If they’re growing environment is too warm, their growth becomes scraggly and leggy.
Once the flowers emerge, support the tall stems with a decorative stake. The stake will prevent the stems from falling over. Water the bulbs often enough to maintain a consistently even level of soil moisture. Be careful not to overwater the bulbs because they’ll rot.
The Christmas Cactus belongs to a species that includes the Easter and Thanksgiving cacti. When the Christmas cactus is in bloom, it’s every bit as festive as a Christmas tree. They are easy to grow and last long beyond the holiday season. The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) blooms a month after the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncate), which blooms in late fall.
The Christmas cactus originated in humid Brazilian forests where it grows as an epiphyte – in between tree branches, not in soil. Plants produce various flower colors, including deep red, hot pink, pale pink, salmon, and white. These plants are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 9 through 11. That means that Southern California residents can take their Christmas cactus outside after the holiday season.
Caring for Christmas Cacti Plants
When you get your Christmas cactus, please keep it in the pot it came in. These plants grow best when they are root-bound. Place your Christmas cactus in a bright and sunny location where it gets indirect, but never direct sunlight. Avoid south or west-facing windows unless you can filter the light with a curtain or blind.
In their native habitat, Christmas cacti grow in humid conditions. You can replicate that placing your plants on a tray of pebbles—only water your plant when the surface feels dry. And don’t ever allow plants to sit in water. The ideal daytime temperatures for Christmas cacti are between 65 and 75 degrees. The ideal nighttime temperatures are between 55 and 65 degrees.
Throughout the spring and summer months, the period during which plants grow the most, water your plants regularly (paying attention to how dry the soil is). By fall, you should taper off the frequency with which you water your plants.
*Watering Tip* It is always best to err on the side of caution. You can always water your Christmas cactus again, but if you overwater it, you can’t take water away. Overwatering will lead to root rot.
Getting Your Christmas Cactus to Bloom
Caring for your Christmas Cactus is easy to do. Getting it to bloom and rebloom from year to year is a bit more challenging. Between June and August, use a balanced houseplant fertilizer to feed your plant. Dilute it to ½ strength. Christmas Cacti have shallow roots, so if you don’t dilute the fertilizer, you risk burning the plant roots.
For at least six weeks before you want your plant to bloom, you will need to give it a minimum of 12-to-14 hours of total darkness a day. If you don’t have a place in your home where the plant will get complete and uninterrupted darkness, you can cover it with something like a black garbage bag to block out any artificial light – including from street lights or lights within your home.
Begonia ‘Wightii’ (Maculata variegata) or Polka Dot Begonia
Begonia ‘Wightii’ or Polka Dot Begonia is part of a ‘cane begonias.’ Polka Dot Begonia does best in bright, indirect light, but it can grow in more dimly lit areas. Be sure to keep it out of the path of the direct afternoon sun. Intense heat can burn the leaves or dry them out. This begonia will do better in a darker place than in a place with full direct sunlight. However, insufficient light will cause the plant to become leggy and spindly. Begonia ‘Wightii’ produces large clusters of delicate hanging white flowers that emerge from a single stem.
Begonia ‘Wightii’ needs water regularly. It likes to grow in moist but not overly wet soil. The best way to avoid overwatering is to allow the top couple of inches of soil to dry out almost completely before watering. When you water the plant, make sure that any excess water drains out o the bottom of the pot. If the roots are too wet, the plant will rot.
Begonia ‘Wightii’, like most plants, grows actively during the spring and summer. You need to water the plant more often during this time. By winter, when growth slows, water less often. During the peak growth time, use a diluted liquid houseplant fertilizer to feed your plants every two weeks. Stop fertilizing during the fall and winter. Deadheading the spent blooms will encourage the plant to produce more flowers. Pinch new growth from the top to ensure that the plant maintains a fuller, more compact appearance.
We’ve suggested three plants that will add a festive decorative touch to your home during the holidays. But you can continue to enjoy them after the holidays, too. And if you’re looking for a gift for someone who loves plants, any of these would make a delightful and appreciated present. Our garden experts are always available to help you find plants and flowers for your home or give as gifts to the special people in your life.
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