’Tis the season to get or give holiday plants. Common types include poinsettia, amaryllis, Christmas cactus, kalanchoe, miniature cyclamen, miniature azaleas, dwarf rosemary and forced flower bulbs. Here’s how to keep them looking beautiful…
Check for bugs. Indoor bugs that come seemingly out of nowhere can ruin a potted plant. Look on leaf undersides and on the stems. Spider mites are tiny, but you’ll see their webs. Whiteflies give themselves away as a cloud of white “dust” when you brush a plant. Scale insects form hard brown or black dots in clumps on leaves and stems. Aphids are small, light green or black and congregate under leaves.
Always quarantine a newcomer plant for a few days—that is, keep it away from other houseplants and in another room until you are sure it did not arrive infected. Fight small outbreaks by showering a plant in the kitchen sink (hold your hand over the soil surface, and spray the plant clean). Alternatively, wipe down the foliage and stems with a cotton swab or cotton ball dampened with rubbing alcohol. Or spray with an insecticidal soap, following label directions.
Inspect the pot. If a pot doesn’t have a drainage hole or is wrapped in decorative foil, drainage will be thwarted, which causes roots to rot. Remove the foil, and “nest” the plastic pot in a slightly larger decorative one or repot the plant in a container that has a drainage hole.
Beware the windowsill. A spot on the windowsill can be too chilly or too bright and lead to a plant’s early demise. If foliage browns, yellows or dies, or buds drop without opening, move the pot to a warmer location with indirect light.
Don’t under-water. Small potted plants dry out faster than mature plants in larger containers. Check every day, and water when the soil-mix surface is dry to the touch. Alternatively, set a pot in a dish or tray of water, and let it “sip up” water when it needs it. Perk up a plant by spritzing it with water from time to time, or put a pot in the bathroom temporarily, where shower steam raises the humidity.
Don’t fertilize. Normally, houseplants benefit from plant food, but this is winter, and these plants got dosed with plenty of fertilizer before they were sold. There’s generally no need to feed.
After the holidays…
Some plants should stay in their pots indoors or in a spot outside beginning in late spring, sheltered from bright sun—these include amaryllis, Christmas cactus, kalanchoe and poinsettia. Start feeding by late summer.
Other plants—such as flower bulbs, miniature cyclamen, mini azaleas and rosemary plants—can survive outdoor garden conditions after the danger of frost is past. But they may spend their first year outdoors focused on root growth and only resume top growth and blooming in the following years.