Houseplants

Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Making Your Gift Plant Last

décembre 26So someone brought you a gift plant over the holidays. Maybe a poinsettia or Christmas cactus. And you’re a total brown thumb! But don’t panic! Christmas plants aren’t all that hard to care for. You just need to know a few tricks.

The most important thing is to place it in a brightly lit spot. With at least an hour or two of full sun per day. After all, plants are alive and their only source of energy is sunlight. So a dark corner just won’t do. Also, make sure it gets normal indoor temperatures. Now, that was easy, wasn’t it?

Now, here’s a detail too many first-timers don’t think of. Remove the plastic or paper covering the pot came in, or at least poke a hole in the bottom. This seems counterintuitive: if the store sold a plant it decorative wrapping, it must be all right, no? No! These wrappings don’t let excess water drain away, plus they fit so snuggly you can’t really see your new plant is constantly soaking in water, and that will quickly lead to rot. By removing it or at least piercing it, you can now place your plant in a saucer (it should be as wide as the top of the pot). Now when you water, it will catch any excess water and this time you’ll be able to see it and simply empty the saucer if there is too much.

Next, you need to know how to water the plant. Insert a finger into the soil. If it is moist, everything is fine. If not, repeat 3 or 4 days later. When the soil is dry to the touch, gently pour warm water over the soil, letting it slowly sink in. Stop when water starts to slow into the saucer. If there is still water in the saucer 20 minutes later, take it to the sink and empty it. This is how you water plants: by testing every 3 or 4 days and by watering only when the soil is dry. Pretty simple, isn’t it?

What about fertilizing? Don’t worry about that for now. It’s a minor detail in houseplant care. Remember, it’s sunlight that “feeds” plants, fertilizers are more like vitamins and plants can get along for months without any. If your Christmas plant is still alive by mid-March, you can start fertilizing it (not feeding it) at no more than one quarter of the dose recommended on the fertilizer label. I insist: fertilizing is a very minor aspect of plant care!

There was a very ominous sentence in the previous paragraph: “if your plant is still alive by mid-March”. If your plant dies before that, does that mean you’ve failed? No! It’s just that many Christmas are ephemerals: naturally short-lived plants. Cyclamens, Christmas cherries, Christmas peppers, paperwhite narcissus, etc. They were designed to bloom massively and then die. So it’s not your fault if you lose them.

Longer-lived Christmas plants include poinsettias, Christmas kalanchoes, orchids, and Christmas cactus. With reasonable care, you can keep them alive for years. Will they bloom again? That’s a different story. Maybe, but that depends on your growing conditions. Start by learning to keep them alive and we can talk about getting them to rebloom in another blog!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

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