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Plentiful holiday plants available for gifts, enjoyment

Traditional Christmas plants include Painsettias, which should be kept in a warm place. Submitted photos1 / 2
Amaryllis plants can be purchased in full bloom or bulb form. Submitted photo2 / 2

Winter is the time when we need color most and perhaps that is why red and green decorations are so prevalent during the Christmas season. Fortunately there are many colorful plants available for gifts or our own enjoyment.

The brilliant Poinsettia is synonymous with Christmas. When you purchase one, have the salesperson wrap it in plastic and paper. Put it in a warm car and go right home, as just a breath of cold air will damage the plant.

Select a plant with dark green foliage and completely colored bracts (the colored leaves). Look for one that is full and balanced with no drooping or yellow leaves. The true flowers in the centers of the bracts should be unopened with little yellow pollen showing for a long lasting plant.

Place the poinsettia in a bright area free from hot or cold drafts. The temperature should be 65 to 75 degrees. Punch holes in the decorative wrapper to allow good drainage or remove it entirely and put the plant in pretty container. Overly cool temperatures or over watering will cause root rot. The easiest way to keep it correctly hydrated is to give it ½ cup of lukewarm water every day and discard any drainage water.

Christmas cacti bloom in response to short days and cool nights so if you left yours outside until the temperatures were in the 30’s it will have already set buds. This is a tropical not desert cacti and should not be allowed to dry out when they are in bud or bloom. Keep Christmas cacti in a bright spot out of the direct sun. They are epiphytic plants that grow naturally in rain-forest trees. Once buds appear, fertilize every seven to ten days until the flowering ends. When roots fill the pot it needs repotting so rough up the roots and put it in a container two to three inches larger. Place it outside in a sheltered spot once the weather warms up in spring. Some plants live for 25 years if they are treated right.

Amaryllis is readily available both in bloom and as a bulb. Bulbs need to be potted up in October in order to bloom by Christmas as they take eight to twelve weeks to force. Plant one or more now for a colorful treat in mid winter. Soak the roots for about an hour before potting in a container that is two inches wider than the bulb. Tamp in a base of nutritious potting soil and place the bulb in the center of the pot. It should sit high enough that 1/3 to ½ of the bulb is above the soil. Firm the soil around the bulb with your finger and water well. The bulb may rot with too much moisture so water only when the soil is dry to the touch. Once the bud or foliage appears, rotate the pot daily to keep the stem growing straight. Since the bulbs are pricey (the larger the bulb the more costly) you may wish to save it and attempt to get it to re-bloom next year. Cut down the foliage as it yellows and put the pot outside next spring. In fall cut off all the foliage, stop watering and place it in a cool dark place for six weeks. Then repeat the process above.

Paperwhites are bulbs that are very easy to force and take only about four weeks to bloom. Arrange the bulbs close together on top of a layer of pebbles. Add more pebbles leaving the top 2/3 of the bulbs uncovered. Add water just until it shows among the top stones. Store the container in a cool dark place until the roots form. When the growing tips are about three inches long bring the pot into strong light, but continue the cool temperature.

Orchids are a lovely plant to brighten your décor. The moth orchid (Phalaenopsis) is easy enough for most and grows well in our indoor conditions. The white, pink or other colored blooms last for weeks. Last spring I purchased a variety that requires three ice cubes each week. It is rewarding me by blooming again just in time for Christmas. If you cut the stem back to the first node below the lowest faded bloom, that stem will produce another round of blooms. No fertilizer is required until the second year and repotting is only necessary when the bark chips have decayed.

Several other colorful plants can add to your Christmas or winter enjoyment. Ornamental pepper plants are covered with bright red, yellow or orange fruits. The seeds can be saved to plant in spring pots. Bromeliads have bright red or orange bracts arising from a green rosette of leaves. These last a very long time with little care. Both Cyclamen and Kalanchoes make great table decorations.

Even if you do not wish the trouble of saving these winter ornamentals they last much longer than cut flowers at about the same price. So, go ahead and add some color to your winter environment.

Breitling is a longtime West Fargo resident and avid gardener always in search of new ideas.