John Granen

December Checklist

Nothing says "Christmas" like gorgeous red poinsettias! These classic flowers add brilliant color to any holiday decorating scheme. To keep yours looking their best, follow these simple tips:

•Display plants where they'll get plenty of bright, indirect light. Protect from sudden temperature changes and keep away from wood stoves, active fireplaces, and heater vents.

•Water whenever the top 1/2-inch of soil dries out.

•Apply half-strength liquid fertilizer every two weeks.

John Granen

Pairing Plants

For dramatic effect, try pairing poinsettias with other colorful houseplants.
Toss the foil wrap that adorns their pots and group poinsettias of your choice with bromeliads, caladiums, or ivy.
Simple containers are best -- the plants should take center stage. Here, 'Success Coral' poinsettias (six plants, each in a 6-inch pot) surround a single Guzmania, also in a 6-inch pot. The arrangement, best viewed from overhead, is perfect on a coffee table or by an entry.

After the Holidays:
Cut back plants to two buds, reduce watering, and store in a cool place indoors until the danger of frost has passed. In summer, the plants look refreshing in patio pots.

Thomas J. Story

Christmas Cactus

Christmas cactus can grow on you in more ways than one! The plants get bigger every year, producing masses of delicate jungle flowers in rosy red, white, orange, pink, and pale yellow (depending on the variety), just in time for the holidays. These cacti are also low maintenance, blooming every year for 25 years or more.

After the Holidays:
When flowering is over, set the cactus outdoors if you live in a frost-free climate; in cold climates, keep it indoors until the weather warms in late spring.

Thomas J. Story

Cactus Care

A cool, bright spot with indirect sun is best for christmas cacti, which grow naturally in rain forest trees. Keep one on display near an east-facing window, and it won't know it ever left the jungle.

Before watering, check soil moisture with your index finger. Water thoroughly when the top 1/2-inch of soil dries out.

As new leaves appear or when flower buds begin to swell, apply a liquid fertilizer formulated for houseplants every 7 to 10 days until the growth or flowering cycle ends.

Every year or so, gently pull the plant out of its container and check the roots. If roots are matting where they touch the inside of the pot, move the plant into a container that's 1 or 2 inches or two larger in diameter. Rough up the tangled roots with a knife or fork before you repot.

Rob D. Brodman

Delicate Orchids

Moth orchids will bloom year after year in pots on windowsills, and household temperatures suit them fine. Phalaenopsis flowers (shown here) come in an assortment of colors; some have spots, stripes, or weblike patterns, but all are gorgeous.

These easygoing orchids are sold in 4-inch pots for $15 to $75 each. Choose a plant with at least two pairs of leaves whose flowers are just starting to open. Display in bright, indirect light (an east window is usually perfect) out of drafts.

Rob D. Brodman

Orchid Care

After blooms fade, cut stems back to first node below lowest faded blossom; often the remaining stem will produce another round of flowers.

Once a week, use tepid water with a light fertilizer (a teaspoon of 19-31-17 liquid fertilizer per gallon of water). With a narrow-nose watering can, irrigate just inside the pot rim, under plant leaves. Allow pot to drain.

When bark chips have decayed, water the orchid, jiggle it out of the pot, and wash the old bark from the roots, snipping off any dried or mushy roots with sterile clippers. Repot in moistened, medium-grade bark so the base of the bottom leaves sits above the bark and 1/2 inch below the pot rim.

Garland clematis
Thomas J. Story

Garland Clematis

Bred to thrive indoors, the Garland clematis comes with snowflake-shaped flowers in a range of gorgeous colors, from cassis (royal purple) to pistachio (pictured here).
The vines are trained on a circular frame in 6-inch containers and sold throughout December for about $20 each. To keep the plant tidy, tuck new growth beneath existing stems. Display in bright, indirect light, and water regularly.


More For Your Plants

Evergreens: Scrape a fingernail-sized patch of bark off the bottom of a low branch of camellia, daphne, mahonia, rhododendron, or rosemary, dust the wound with rooting hormone, and put a brick on it to hold the branch in firm contact with the soil below. The branch will root where it hits the ground; cut it free from the mother plant in a year and replant it wherever you want.

Christmas Greens: When snipping branches for swags and wreaths, follow standard pruning principles: Make each cut just above a side branch, thinning the tree or shrub evenly as you work. While you're at it, remove dead, diseased, and injured branches; to finish the job, prune for shape.

Annuals and Perennials

December Gardening Tips

Annuals and Perennials: In mild winter climates, plant pansies, English daisies, and primroses. In the intermediate and low deserts of the Southwest, plant seedlings of calendula, candytuft, cyclamen, dianthus, Iceland poppy, larkspur, pansy, petunia, primrose, snapdragon, stock, sweet alyssum, and viola for winter to spring bloom.

Watering: When the temperature is above freezing in cold winter climates, water dry spots in the garden -- especially plants in containers and under house eaves. When sustained subfreezing temperatures arrive, well-watered plants stand a better chance of surviving than dry ones.

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