By: Staff Reports | Gwinnett Citizen

Healthy Holiday Plants
By Tim Daly
Gwinnett County Extension Agent

During the holiday season, several ornamental plants add color and beauty to holiday decorations. Providing them with some basic care will help them prosper throughout the holidays.

Of all of the holiday plants, poinsettias are the most well-known. The brightly colored bracts, which are modified leaves, come in red, white, pink and cream colors. The small yellow blooms in the center of the colorful bracts are the actual flowers of the poinsettia plant. Decreasing daylight hours initiate flowering. When purchasing these plants, they should have fully mature, thoroughly colored bracts with dark, rich green foliage. The poinsettias should be attractive from all sides, have good bract and leaf retention, and show no signs of wilting, breaking or drooping. Place them in a location where they receive a minimum of six hours of bright, indirect sunlight each day. Avoid direct sunlight since it can lead to loss of color in the bracts. The temperatures should not exceed 70 degrees. Keep them away from drafts, excessive heat or dry air from appliances, fireplaces or ventilating ducts. Temperatures below 50°F can cause chilling injuries that will cause the leaves to drop. When the soil feels dry, thoroughly water the pots and keep the soil evenly moist. Do not apply fertilizer when the plant is blooming.

Prune the plant back to about eight inches in height during the spring, after the colorful bracts have faded. Although the plants will look bare after pruning, new leaves will emerge. Keep the plant near a sunny window and continue to water it regularly. Move poinsettia plants outdoors once the night temperature stays above 50 degrees. Apply 10-10-10 fertilizer once a month from April to September. When the temperatures drop below 50 degrees in the autumn, bring them inside your home.

The three types of holiday cacti produce colorful blooms at different times of the year, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. The flowers come in red, purple, orange, pink and cream colors. They are an excellent choice for hanging baskets since they have long stems. Keep them in areas that do not have cold or hot air blowing on them and where they can receive indirect sunlight. The soil should be kept moist, but not water logged. Fertilize the plants with a well-balanced complete fertilizersuch as 10-10-10 once a month between April and September. Do not apply any when the plants are flowering. Like poinsettias, the shorter daylight hours of the fall initiate flowering. Pinch back the stems to promote branching after flowering.

By taking some simple steps to keep holiday plants healthy, they will produce attractive flowers and foliage thereby enhancing holiday decorations. 

Timothy Daly is Agricultural and Natural Resource Agent with Gwinnett County Extension. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu or http://www.gwinnettextension.com