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The best holiday gift plants are amaryllis, poinsettia and Christmas cactus

December 13, 2017

Christmas is a time for stories, and we seem to like our stories to have three characters whether it’s The Three Little Pigs or the Three Musketeers or indeed, the Three Magi. 

These three "wise men" embodied the three ages of man, (age 20, 40 and 60) and come from three distinct foreign lands, Caspar from the land of Tarsus in Turkey, Melchior of Arabia, and Balthazar 
the young black man from South Yemen. 

So while not gold, frankincense nor myrrh, three of the best holiday gift plants are amaryllis, poinsettia and Christmas cactus. You can enjoy each, and then unceremoniously toss them aside after the new year or, with a bit of care, let each come back bigger and better every holiday. 

To keep your poinsettia going for another year, keep it watered and growing as you would any houseplant. If you want you can put poinsettias outside after all danger of frost has passed. 

Prune it to retain its shape or just to keep it in bounds. What a poinsettia needs to rebloom is not all about light, but darkness. 

Your poinsettias need long nights of total darkness beginning in early October. You can keep it dark by covering the plant with a box or simply put it in a dark closet for 12 to 16 hours. Only water sparingly during this dark period as the pant wont be growing much. 

You should see buds form by early December, when you can bring the poinsettias back into the light. 

Christmas cacti are another gift of the holidays that can become treasures unto themselves. It isn't uncommon for Christmas cactus to live several decades. 

You can find Christmas cacti in all sorts of colors, including traditional red, along with pink, white, and even two-toned. 

Treat your gift Christmas cactus just as you do your poinsettias, by giving them a long dark rest before Christmas.

Start in October by keeping the temperature low at night, just 50 to 55 degrees F. Or you can put it in a dark closet or cover it with a cardboard box for up to 16 hours. 

Finally the third gift is the bulb amaryllis. 

While this can be in full bloom when you get it, sometimes amaryllis is gifted in the form of a bulb or kit that needs to be nurtured into bloom. Just begin watering it and watch it grow. 

After just four to six weeks the strap-like leaves will be joined by huge flower spikes with several trumpet-shaped booms in red, pink, white and bi-colors. There is even a green flowered amaryllis. 

After your amaryllis has finished blooming, keep it growing until the leaves turn yellow. 

Place the pot in a cool, dark room or even a nonfreezing garage or cellar. Let the bulb rest for at least two months. Move it back into the light with normal household temperatures and you will see new growth. You can repot the bulb or let it stay in and get slightly potbound. 

Always keep your holiday plants where they will get bright light but not sunburned.

Keep them away from drafts. Like many plants they do best in slightly cooler temperatures. 

With a little aftercare your holiday gift plants will return every year more beautiful than before. And that will give the angels something to sing about.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.