If your family and friends decided the best thing to give you was a plant this season, don’t sigh in resignation of having to care for another fussy houseguest. Most of the plants given at this time of year aren’t picky; they just need a little understanding.
If you need a refresher on caring for your festive foliage, here’s a quick primer on how to have healthy, thriving plants well after the holidays are past.
When the tag says “place in bright indirect light”, what this means: closely in front of – but not touching – east or west facing windows will give the plant the right light, or one foot away from a south facing window. For direct light, place it closer to the south window.
For longest bloom, keep in a cool room, with nighttime temperatures of 55 to 60 degrees; during the day, set the thermostat between 65 to 68. These cooler temps will keep your plant’s blooms lasting longer.
Feed with a balanced fertilizer. Most houseplant food is 20-20-20, but many winter bloomers need a half-strength solution until later in spring, when robust growth starts up again. Check the tag for feeding instructions before dosing the plant with too much fertilizer.
What: Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii), a succulent, can be told apart from its cousin, the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata), by its rounded “teeth” on the leaves (Thanksgiving cacti have pointed teeth).
How: During bloom, keep in bright, indirect light in a cool room and let dry slightly between watering. If the leaves wrinkle and flowers fall, the plant is too dry or too warm.
Feed: Once bloom is finished, fertilize once per month from April through October.
How: These little trees, native to the South Pacific, will not survive our Colorado weather so keep them indoors in bright light and out of direct afternoon sun. Take care not to let it dry out in our low-humidity homes. Water when the top inch of soil feels dry, discarding water that collects in the catch pan.
Feed: From April through June, use half-strength fertilizer twice per month. Feed monthly for the rest of the year.
Tip: For healthy, bright foliage, mist with water twice per week for healthy, bright foliage.
What: Christmas pepper (Capsicum spp.).
How: Moist soil and full sun keeps the foliage lasting, but for fruit that’s glossy and plump, place this plant in a room with cool temperatures. This annual is a one-season wonder, finished when all the fruit drops off, so compost it when the display is over.
Feed: None needed.
Tip: If the oils from handling get into eyes or on skin, this pepper can be irritating. Choose a visible but out of the way area for this plant to keep kids and pets safe from its sting.
What: Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana), the succulent with stems of small, brightly colored flowers held above the leaves.
How: Place in full sun for the remainder of winter, but when our sun becomes intense in late spring, pull it out of direct sun to a bright location to prevent leaf burning. Lightly damp to slightly dry soil is preferred by Kalanchoe; take care not to over-water or let it dry completely out.
Feed: After bloom, fertilize once per month.
What: Amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.).
How: Choose a spot with bright, indirect light and keep the soil moist but not soggy. Deadhead spent flowers soon after they fade, and continue to care for the bulb after blooming is finished – Amaryllis will rebloom year after year.
Feed: After the shoot appears from the bulb, feed twice per month.