There are a lot of plants that are given as gifts this time of year. Many are easy to care for and most are not hard if you know a few basic guidelines regarding care.
As I have written before I have two Christmas cacti that are many years old. One came from my older brother who passed away a few years ago and the other came from mom. (My mom has the greenest thumb I have ever seen and she passes on plants to me that have become too large for her to want to handle. Yeah!)
• Christmas cactus — The cactus is the jungle kind, not the desert kind and can live for decades. They need bright light and room temperatures around 70 degrees; water when the soil is dry to the touch. These plants love to be root bound so if you must repot do so at several years’ intervals. And don’t repot into too large of a container. These are the kinds of plants that can stand being abused by neglect, poor soil and little water. However, they can also be a beautiful shiny green when watered regularly and provided adequate light.
• Cyclamen plants’ vivid color displays can brighten any day. They like bright light, but no hot direct sunlight. The plant enjoys moderate nighttime temperatures and evenly moist soil will extend their flowering periods. Let plants absorb water from a saucer, rather than watering from above. Cyclamen in flower doesn’t need to be fertilized.
• Amaryllis have blooms that are worth the yearly bother of planting. If you receive a bare bulb, plant it in a light, well-drained potting medium with the top third of the bulb exposed. Grow in bright light, no direct sunlight and let it go dry between waterings. Remove faded flowers and stems. Leave the plant in full sun, and apply a balanced fertilizer every two weeks. Cut off foliage only when it yellows and flops; stop feeding and gradually stop watering to encourage dormancy. Store the bulb on its side in a cool, dry, dark place for two to three months. Return pot to light and resume watering. Repot with fresh medium every two to three years.
• Poinsettia have vivid bracts (modified leaves) and are spectacular now but these plants are very fussy about re-blooming. Yes, I know plenty of folks who have saved them and have had success in getting them to re-bloom, but frankly they are just not worth the bother. Toss them after color fades.
• Rosemary plant leaves are fragrant and their aroma never overpowers the senses and their smell suggests their culinary uses. They enjoy a southern exposure and a topiary needs regular turning and trimming to keep its shape. They like cooler temperatures to keep their compact shape and can become shaggy and spindly in warmer rooms. Because this is usually an outdoor plant, it can look a bit bedraggled by late winter. Come spring, put it outside and repot annually.
Taking care of these special plants can bring years of joy and color.
Susan Woody has been a home and garden writer for more than 20 years and is a master gardener.