by Dale Odorizzi, Lanark County Master Gardeners
The Azalea is a small woody shrub that is covered in beautiful double blooms of red, pink, white or bicolour. If you keep the soil moist and the pot in a room with indirect light and an average temperature of 20C, the blooms will last a long time and the plant will likely re-bloom for years to come. After the azalea has bloomed, move the pot to a cool room and continue watering. In the summer, place the pot in a shady spot in the garden, keep fed and watered until September. Bring it into a cool room and when the flowers open, move it into the display area. During the blooming period, mist the leaves daily.
Cyclamen have an attractive compact growth with beautiful swept-backed flowers on long stalks and decorative foliage which is patterned in silver and green. The blooms are white, pink, red or purple. Unfortunately, most cyclamen are composted when they quit blooming. With care, they will bloom indoors for several months and then can be kept to provide another display next winter. It is best to buy your plant in autumn and to buy one with plenty of unopened buds. Put it in a north-facing window, in a spot that is cool and away from direct sunlight. A warm room means a short life for a cyclamen. After blooming, reduce watering and stop feeding the plant. Place the pot on its side in a cool spot and keep it dry until July. Repot using fresh compost, burying the tuber to half its depth. Place in a cool, well-lit spot and water to keep the compost moist.
Norfolk Island Pine is often used as a substitute for a Christmas tree. It is a handsome, easy to grow conifer and is best grown in its own pot where its tiered branches bearing green needle-like leaves can develop symmetrically. It flourishes in cool and light conditions and will grow to reach two metres tall. Keep it pot bound to restrict growth. The main source of problems for this plant is either hot, dry air or too dry compost. Too much sun and water logging can also cause problems.
Christmas Cactus are an easy-care plant that can live for more than 50 years. It likes bright, indirect sunlight. Let it dry out before watering. In mid-September, move it to a cool spot that is dark all night. Stop fertilizing and reduce watering but do not let it wilt. When buds form, fertilize and give it more light and water.
The Amaryllis is a dramatic, spectacular plant. Just when you need a boost, the amaryllis bursts forth into huge, tropical, lily-like flowers in dramatic shades of red, salmon, pink and white, in solid, striped and speckled versions. Leave the top third of the bulb above soil, water when dry and keep in a bright setting. To make the flowers last, set it in a cool place.
After the Christmas tree, a potted poinsettia is the most popular plant of the season. In the tropics, the poinsettia is a large shrub. The compact hybrids we bring into our home each year range from burgundy through red, orange, coral, pink and white. When buying a Poinsettia, look at the true flowers (yellow and tiny in the centre of the flowering head). They should be unopened for maximum flower life. When you get it home, put it in a well-lit spot, away from draughts and keep it reasonably warm. Surround the pot with moist peat if you can and avoid overwatering it.
One of the many joys of Christmas is to brighten our homes with these plants. One of the most important things you can do when you bring your plant home from the store is to remove it from the decorative sleeve in which it is wrapped. If you leave the sleeve around your plant, it will soon become waterlogged and the roots will rot.
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