Saturday, February 23, 2008


There are lots of seasons to the year, many holidays and celebrations. And for just about every one of them, there is a traditional plant that is put out on display or given as a gift. Easter has the Easter Cactus and it's own lily.  The palm tree is especially symbolic during the Lenten season. Christmas has Poinsettias, as well as Amaryllis and Christmas Cactus. Gardenias are a common winter plant now, as are the tiny, trimmed rosemary shrubs that look like miniature Christmas trees. Now most people that receive plants as gifts receive them in a blooming state. Once they have finished their elegant display, the plant is tossed into the trash. There are some people whose thumbs are too green to do such a wreched thing, though. These people hold on to their Poinsettia, watching all of the leaves turn yellow and fall off, wondering what they're doing wrong. The hold onto it for 11 months, keeping it just barely alive, hoping that those tiny leaves that started appearing in November just might grow into lucious, velvety red ones like it had last year. And some of them might get lucky. I would like to share with you the 2 successful experiences I have had with saving seasonal plants-

The Amaryllis I have now had one Amaryllis bulb for 3 years and it just opened from the tip of it's bloom shaft for the third time, revealing two buds. I have had another Amaryllis bulb for 2 years and it will soon open. I have been given a range of advice on how to keep these bulbs from year to year. I took the easiest set of instructions - and it hasn't failed me yet. I just keep watering it year round, about once a week, less when I forget about it. It's a really interesting plant. Throughout the year it seems to keep starting over, growing long leaves that immediately topple downwards, often breaking off, usually dying within a month. The whole plant seems to burst forth life, then die back to the bulb, many times throughout the year. Last year, it's blooming stalk appeared in late spring and was blooming on my front porch (in full sun) in May and June. This year, the bloom stalks mysteriously appeared at the beginnning of February and it looks to plan it's show of colors for the first week of March. I have wondered about the mechanism that tells the bulb it's time to bloom. Many people let the bulb dry out and go dormant in the fall, and then the increased watering and increased sunshine in January is supposed to help force the bulb to bloom. Others suggest letting the plant get a little nip of cold (maybe in the garage) for the fall and winter to help force dormancy. Most people have noted that their following years of blooms do not match the first year in brilliance and size. I have noticed this with mine. It is often recommended to repot them from the tiny pot they originally came in, especially as you see the bulb growing too large for the pot. Repotting and fertilization will probably help to combat the problem of wimpy incandescence. Anyway, have fun with these. They're pretty easy to get to rebloom.

Christmas or Easter Cactus As far as I can tell, these two are pretty much the same plant, just forced to bloom at different times of the year. This one I have had for 2 years, having gotten it to rebloom in the only repeat season since I got it. It requires a little more effort, but it still pretty easy. This plant requires little water throughout the year. When you got it, covered in red, pink or magenta blooms you probably barely paid any attention to the structure of the plant itself. Shortly after the blooms fall off the plant may look fairly sickly. I just keep this plant on my back porch throughout the summer (in part shade/part sun), watering about once a week. The plant produced new growth, but the cacti petals seemed rather thin and unhealthy. My wife really wanted to get the plant to bloom again and so she read up on what to do around November. We had been keeping the plant in the house at a comfortable temperature and we moved it into the garage window with the goal of being in about 50*F. The other goal was to have near complete darkness for 12 hours and bright light for the other 12 hours each day. Of course, if you really want to simulate this you could try covering the plant 12 hours or sticking it in a cool closet, then putting it in the brightest sun location you can find for the other 12 hours. But then you have to remember to do something twice a day. Our plan was much more realistic for us. The other bit of instruction we were given was to put a glass of water next to the pot, to increase the local humidity around the plant. Voila! About a week later the plant was covered in buds. We rotated the plant every couple days so that the sun was shared. In mid-December we brought the plant indoors and watered it. Very soon the buds started opening and we enjoyed a month of beautiful flowers again. I was really hesistant about this one (even though I had kept it alive throughout the year). But the little bit of effort we put in to this plant paid off tenfold. It is great to see it covered in blooms again.