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Christmas Plants Can Last for Years

Poinsettias add color to homes or gardens for months as long as there is no frost.

Many of the plants given as gifts for Christmas can last for years in our Florida landscapes as trees or shrubs or in our homes as flowering plants.

And if you didn't get some of these as gifts, this might be a good time to buy them with your gift money if you find them on sale.

Poinsettias are by far the most popular and most will hold their color for months. Native to Mexico and Central America, they have been part of American Christmases since our ambassador (1825-29) Joel Roberts Poinsett sent seeds and plants back to the United States. They can thrive in our yards and become ever larger shrubs as long as there is no frost or they are protected from the frosts we get. One way around this is to set them in the ground pots and all. If frost threatens, you can just pull them all up and take them indoors. Once winter is past, pick up the pots, remove them, and put the plants right back in the holes. Weather people tell us this is supposed to be a warm winter. Maybe there won't be any serious frosts.

Poinsettias need full sun to thrive and no artificial light to bloom. Street and porch lights will not bother blooms already set, but the plants will not rebloom next year as long as such lights stay on. They set buds in reaction to short days.

Christmas cacti seem to do well on screened porches and pool surrounds in Florida.

After researching and writing about poinsettias for decades, this year I found a new legend about them, telling of a poor Mexican girl who dreamed of bringing a beautiful gift to the Virgin Mary for Christmas Eve. But she had nothing to bring. On the way to church, she met an angel who told her to pick some of the roadside weeds. Although they had no beauty, she obediently knelt and gathered a handful and took them along. The moment she placed them on the altar, they burst into blooms of brilliant red poinsettias and her heart rejoiced. The Mexicans call it Flor de Nochebuena, the Christmas Eve Flower.

The Christmas cactus in another favorite Christmas gift. In their native habitat, they are epiphytes that grow on trees in the tropical rainforests of Brazil, the parts of the trees that get ample light. The stem segments of the Christmas cactus have scalloped margins and blooms are usually only at the stem tips. There is also an Easter cactus that is more likely to bloom between the stem segments as well as at the tips. And the Thanksgivings cactus has two to four pointy teeth along the margins of the stem segments and blooms at the stem tips. Its blooms are often gone by Christmas.

Christmas cacti need bright indirect light. Too much sun will cause the flowers to fade more quickly. If you have failed with these, as I have, it could be because we have not watered them right. They need less water than most house plants, but more than most cacti. Water well when the top half of the soil in the pot feels very dry to the touch, but be sure there is amble drainage so that the plant doesn't sit in water for more than 20 minutes. If possible, do not more the plant between the time when buds begin to show color until after bloom or it could cause bud drop. Once the flowers are open, you can move it for a few days to a spotlight place but then get it back to where it gets bright light.

After bloom prune by cutting off a few sections from each stem to encourage branching: the more stem tips the more flowers. The sections you snip off can be rooted for new plants. These seem to do well on screened porches and pool surrounds in Florida. These are also short day bloomers, so for next year's bloom keep the plant away from night lighting. Also, night temperatures in the low 50s are needed from early November until the plants set buds. But I have known people to have great success without being too fussy about these details.

Hollies, Norfolk Island pines in small pots, ornamental peppers and amaryllis can be enjoyed indoors in bright light as long as they are thriving or on porches as long as there is no threat of freeze. They can later be planted outdoors. The hollies, pines, and amaryllis will be hardy. Protect peppers from frost.


Amaryllis are good as gifts, houseplants, or garden plants any time of year.
Bulbs of these can last and multiply for decades.