Christmas cactus

Christmas cactus

KELLY ALLSUP, FOR THE PANTAGRAPH

Are you like me and wish for a holiday plant as a gift this year? Gifting holiday plants is nostalgic, unique and very affordable. Some of the most popular are poinsettia, Christmas cactus, cyclamen and mistletoe. However, air plants and succulents can make excellent and trendy holiday gift plants, too. If you are kind enough to give your favorite plant lover one of these holiday treats, print or cut out these instructions and attach to the gift tags.

Poinsettias should not be transported outside without a covering. Inside, they should be placed in a cool and shady location, away from any heat vents. Think of them as a floral arrangement that we want to suspend in time. When watering, submerge in a full sink and allow water to soak into the roots. Allow to drain. Let dry between waterings. In the right place, I have watered my poinsettia only a few times during the holiday season.

Christmas cactus should be kept in bright, indirect light. Day temperatures of 70 degrees Fahrenheit and evening temperatures of 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit are considered ideal. Be sure to water thoroughly, but let plant dry slightly between waterings. It is especially important not to let soil dry too much during flowering. Once flowers fade, continue to grow the plant as a houseplant.

Cyclamen resume growth in the fall as temperatures cool and watering resumes, starting the blooming cycle after it is allowed to go dormant. Cyclamen do best in a cool, bright location indoors, ideally no warmer than 68 Fahrenheit during the day, and as low as 40 Fahrenheit at night, to maximize the blooming period. But take care to avoid hot or cold drafts, as this may trigger blooms to drop. Remove flowers as they fade to promote new blooms. A combination of too much water and not enough air movement around the plant is a prescription for certain death, usually due to disease. Allow plant to dry between watering and submerge plant in a sink of water until root ball is wet.

Air plants enjoy indirect sun within the home. Watering is the most critical aspect of their care. Water air plants once a week using the submerge method: Submerge the entire plant for 30 minutes to an hour (if the leaves look shriveled and feel dry, increase the time to a couple of hours). Allow to dry a couple of hours before putting back on display. Misting can also be done once or twice a week.

Succulents require growing temperatures above 50 degrees, drying out between waterings and a sufficient amount of light. Depending on the succulent, provide the sunniest window in the house or indirect sun. Additional issues succulents may face are shallow watering (not watering thoroughly each time) or poor light, which may cause stretching and loss of lower leaves creating an untidy look.

Kelly Allsup is the University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator in Livingston, McLean and Woodford counties.

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