The Green Thumb Almanac

YOUR ONLINE GARDENING INFORMATION CENTER

Holiday and Gift Plants

Plants and flowers have traditionally been given in honor of some of our most treasured holidays.  Would Christmas or Easter be the same without the poinsettia or Easter lily?  They also are tokens of affection, concern or sympathy, often given to lift a loved one's spirits or to say "I love you."  This page lists the care of some of the most common varieties of holiday and gift plants.
 

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On This Page!

  • Poinsettias
  • A Selection of Gift Plants
  • Easter Lilies
  • Christmas Amaryllis

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Poinsettias

Euphorbia pulcherrima - The traditional flower of Christmas is the red poinsettia.  It's showy, colorful bracts (leaves) come not only in red but a variety of other colors as well.  This plant was brought to the United States in 1825 by our first ambassador to Mexico, Joel Robert Poinsett.  Wild poinsettias in Mexico grow into a 10 foot tall shrub.  The milky latex sap was used by the Aztec Indians to counteract fever.  It is a myth that Poinsettias are poisonous.  However, individuals who are allergic to latex will find the sap irritating. 

Poinsettias are a tropical plant and prefer a bright sunny location.  They grow well with daytime temperatures between 65-75 degrees F and between 60-65 degrees F at night.  They do not like drafts and should be located away from heat registers or cold doors or windows.  Poinsettias also like to be evenly moist.  Let the surface soil become dry to the touch before watering; preferably with lukewarm water.  Never let your poinsettia sit in water for an extended period of time.  This will cause root rot and is sure death for the plant.

 
Poinsettias are day length sensitive plants.  The shorter days of fall are what trigger the coloring of the leaves.  If you wish to keep your poinsettia for next year you must:
  • Prune your poinsettia no later than September 1st to produce a shorter, bushier plant.
  • Starting October 1st, the plants must be kept in complete darkness for 14 continuous hours each night.  Stray light of any kind can delay or halt the re-flowering process.
  • The plants will still require 6-8 hours of bright sunlight daily as well as a regular watering & fertilizer program.

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Azalea - Rhododendron simsii - This variety of Azalea prefers a cool (not below 40 degrees F.) and bright location.  Keep the soil uniformly moist but do not let it sit in water.  Your gift Azalea will bloom for approximately 4 weeks.  Although it is difficult to get to rebloom you can enjoy it as a green foliage plant.

Bulbs - Tulipa, Hyacinthus, Narcissus etc. - Flowering bulbs are a popular indoor gift plant.  All bulbs like bright light (lower light causes them to stretch).  They will last longer indoors if kept cool.  Water thoroughly and then let them dry out slightly between waterings.  Once you have finished enjoying them indoors you can plant them outdoors.  Continue to water them, let the foliage die naturally, and they should come back the next year..

Chrysanthemums - Chrysanthemum hybrids - Florist Chrysanthemums are a half-hardy form of the common garden mum.  They have deeply lobed or cut leaves.  Flower heads come in many forms, such as daisy or decorative, and come in a wide range of colors.  They need bright light, but cool temperatures for best lasting power.  Keep the plant well watered.  Ferilizer is not necessary for a mum since they tend to last only about a month.  Florist Chrysanthemums can be propagated from basal softwood cuttings in the spring
Cineraria - Senecio-Cruentus hybrids - have oval, serrated, mid- to deep green leaves.  Large daisylike flowers in shades of blue, red, pink, or white are produced in winter or spring.  They need bright light with good air circulation and cool temperatures (60 - 70 degrees F).  Keep the soil evenly moist and provide indirect humidity.  When they have finished blooming it is best to dispose of them.
Hydrangea - Hydrangea macrophylla - These need bright to medium light, no  full sun.  It prefers a semi-cool and shady location in the summer.  Since it loses its leaves, the overwintering spot can be dark.  In February, put it in a warmer, bright place again.  In spring, summer and fall, water freely because they use a lot of water.  In the winter water only enough to keep the root ball from drying out.  From May to August, use an acidic fertilizer every 2 weeks.  After flowering remove the spent blooms.

Kalanchoe - Kalanchoe blossfeldiana - Perennial succulent (zone 10) with fleshy, oval or linear leaves and bell-shaped flowers in many colors.  This plant needs a bright location and likes sunshine.  It needs warm temperatures in the summer and cool temperatures in the winter (at least 59 degrees F).  In the summer water only moderately; keep the plants almost dry in the winter.  From March to August feed every 2 weeks with a fertilizer which encourages flowering.  Kalanchoes are short-day plants.  The flowers develop when they receive only 8-10 hours of light daily for 4-6 weeks.  They typically bloom from February to May..

Miniature Rose - Rosa chinensis - Mini Roses can be grown as a potted plant where they prefer bright light and good air circulation.  From spring to fall keep the soil evenly moist.  When winter arrives water just enough to keep the root ball from drying out.  Feed every two weeks during the growing season but stop fertilizing in the fall.  Winter them over in a cool, frost-free place.  When spring arrives trim and repot them.  Place in a cool and bright area and you will soon have roses again.  Remember to remove spent flowers to stimulate new blossoms.
Regal Geraniums - Pelargonium domesticum - Also known as Martha Washington geraniums, Regals prefer cool temperatures and bright  light.  From February to August fertilize weekly and water when the soil is dry to the touch.  When done blooming you may dispose of the plant or over-winter it in a cool area (50-59 degrees F.); reduce water and  stop fertilizing.  In the spring pinch the plant back and move to a warmer location.  This geranium only blooms in cool temperatures so unfortunately it will not bloom in summer.
Rieger Begonias - Begonia x hiemalis - Rieger's are improved Hiemalis type begonias which are semi-tuberous.  They have single, semi-double, or double flowers in a wide color range and bloom mainly from late autumn to mid-spring.  They need bright light, but not full sun.  Keep them uniformly moist but avoid sogginess or dryness - both are deadly.  Fertilize lightly every two weeks.  These begonias are typically grown as annuals.

Primula - Primula polyantha - English Primrose - A biennial form with rosettes of basal leaves and flat primrose-shaped flowers in a multitude of colors.  These need bright light.  Keep them evenly moist, but not soggy.  During the blooming season feed with a weak fertilizer solution every 2 weeks.  One can plant this species in the garden as a bedding plant after you have enjoyed it indoors and it may even bloom again the next spring.  They will do best in moist, part-shade outside.

Cyclamen - Cyclamen persicum - This winter blooming bulb is grown for their colorful pendent flowers and attractive foliage.  It is frost tender but can handle temperatures as low as 40 degrees F.  Inside your home Cyclamen prefer bright light with no direct sun and cool temperatures, ideally no more than 65 degrees F.  At night they like temperatures in the range of 40 - 50 degree F.  If the leaves turn yellow quickly and the flower buds wither, then you know your home is too hot.

While your cyclamen is blooming and growing it is best to water so that the soil stays evenly moist but not soggy.  Cyclamen grow from a tuber which can rot easily so make sure that the pot does not sit in water for an extended period.  Feed your cyclamen every 2 weeks while they are flowering with a liquid houseplant fertilizer such as a 5-10-5.

Remove faded flowers by pulling the flower stem with a quick jerk.  Do not cut them off as the remaining stem will soon begin to rot causing fungus problems and contaminated soil can result.  Insect damage is rare but aphids and cyclamen mites can appear causing malformed flowers and curled or wrinkled leaves.  Isolate your plant and spray with an insecticidal soap or houseplant spray listed for mites.

By early spring your cyclamen will begin to turn yellow and will stop producing new growth.  This is common as the plant is beginning to enter its dormant period.  Cut back on your watering and place the pot in a shady place for 4-weeks to allow the foliage to gradually die.  In early August remove the dormant tuber from its pot, clean off all of the old soil, and repot using new sterile potting mix.  Water the tuber and place it outside in the shade.  New growth should begin to appear.  Bring the pot indoors before the first frost and begin fertilizing the plant.  You should have blooms by the beginning of the new year.
Shamrocks - Oxalis regnellii - When you see shamrocks appearing at your local garden center you can be sure that St. Patrick's Day will soon be here.  Legend has it that St. Patrick, a saint who brought Christianity to Ireland, used the shamrock plant to teach the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  The 3-part leaf was used to illustrate the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  The plant that he probably used was none other than the common clover, Trifolium repens, a weedy lawn plant native to Ireland.  The shamrock is a symbol of Ireland and symbolizes the arrival of spring.
Today the plant we use to celebrate St. Patrick's Day is OxalisOxalis leaves are clover shaped and come in a variety of colors from green to purple.  The blossoms are usually white, yellow or pink depending on the variety.  Oxalis plants love a brightly lite room and cool temperatures, usually between 50-65 degrees F.  Keep the soil barely moist.  Excessively dry soil will cause the plant to enter dormancy.  If dormancy occurs, stop watering the plant.  Move it to a cool dark area and allow it to die back naturally.  After a 2 - 3 month rest you can bring it out and start watering it again.  New growth should then appear.  A curious fact about Oxalis is that it is nyctinstic, meaning that the leaves fold up at night or on cloudy days!

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Easter Lilies

The fragrant Easter Lily, Lilium longiflorum, is native to southern Japan and Taiwan.  It was introduced to the United States in the late 1800's and quickly became a symbol of purity and a favorite Easter gift plant.  Most Easter lilies are grown in Oregon and Northern California with 'Nellie White' being the favorite Easter lily variety.

 

Easter lilies thrive in bright, indirect light and like temperatures around 60 degrees F.  Direct sun and warm temperatures will cause the blossoms to quickly wilt and fade.  Since they are grown from bulbs it is important to keep the plant evenly moist but do not allow it to sit in water as this will cause the bulb to rot.  To prolong bloom it is important to remove the yellow stamens carefully by simply plucking them from the flower.  Remove any faded flower heads to prevent the plant from going to seed.

 

Although the Easter lily is only hardy to zone 8 with some care you can plant it outside in colder regions.  Once your lily has finished blooming select a sunny protected area outside to plant your lily.  Plant your lily about 6" deep in soil with good drainage.  When the stem and leaves have turned brown, remove the foliage.  Feed the lily with an all purpose 10-10-10 fertilizer and mulch it heavily.  Easter lilies can be killed by exposure to winter winds and cold temperatures.  Next year your Easter lily will bloom for you in early summer (their normal bloom time) not at Easter.  Easter lilies are short lived plants and will probably only survive 2 or 3 years.

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Christmas Amaryllis

What's in a name?  Botanists have long disagreed over the correct taxonomy of this plant but generally the common name 'Amaryllis' is used to describe cultivars of the genus Hippeastrum.  These plants are native to central and south America and belong to the botanical family Amaryllidaceae.  They are commonly sold in the fall for Christmas blooming.  The name 'Amaryllis' means 'sparkling' in Greek and was derived from ancient Greek lore.  In the story, Amaryllis fell in love with a shepherd, Alteo, but he only loved flowers.  The oracle at Delphi told Amaryllis that if she visited Alteo and pierced her heart with an arrow Alteo would love her.  So she did this for 30 nights.  Where her blood fell, a beautiful red flower grew.  When Alteo saw Amaryllis with this flower he fell in love with her.  The botanical name Hippeastrum means either "horse-star" or "knights-star."  The brilliant red flower symbolizes radiant beauty.
 
Planting & Care.  Plant your Amaryllis bulb in a clay pot that is only slightly larger than the bulb.  Leave the top 1/3 of the bulb exposed.  Do not bury the "neck" of the bulb.  Large Amaryllis bulbs will produce two flower stalks, small bulbs will produce one. These flower stalks will appear before the foliage emerges. Keep your blooming Amaryllis in bright, indirect light.  Direct sun and warm temperatures will shorten the life of the flower.  When the large strap-like leaves emerge move your Amaryllis to a more sunny area.  Cool temperatures will keep the flower stalk from stretching.  Otherwise you will have to stake the flower stalk.  Water when the soil is dry to the touch.  Do not keep the soil soggy wet as this can encourage bulb rot.
Reblooming.  Remove the flower stalk after blooming and grow your Amaryllis as a houseplant.  When summer arrives place your Amaryllis outside and gradually move it to a sunny location.  Before frost bring your Amaryllis inside and keep in a cool room (45-50 degrees F.)  Stop watering and let the foliage die.  The bulb will need two to three months of  dormancy before they can bloom again.  Water and place your dormant bulb in a warm area (top of the refrigerator) until growth appears.  Flower spikes should appear in several weeks.  Amaryllis bulbs generally will bloom only once a year.


The first commercial breeders of Amaryllis were the Dutch who imported several species from Mexico and South America in the 18th century.  In 1946 two Dutch growers moved to South Africa and began production there.  Most bulbs today come from South Africa, although other countries, including the United States now produce them.