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Holiday plant care

12/29/03 12:00AM By Charlie Nardozzi
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(Host) Holiday plants don't need to be thrown out at the New Year. Commentator Charlie Nardozzi offers a few tips on how to care for them.

(Nardozzi) Holiday Plants: what to do with them? Poinsettias, Christmas cactus, and amaryllis seem like the perfect holiday gifts to give - and receive - but after the fruitcake has been eaten and the Christmas stockings put away - then what?

Well, it's time for some straight talk about caring for holiday plants. What you do with your plants depends a lot on your personality. For the no-nonsense gardener, the choices are simple. When the plant stops flowering, starts looking ratty, drops leaves, and generally makes a mess around the house, out it goes into the composter. Thanks for the memories.

Then there are the never-say-die gardeners. These folks agonize over killing any living plant. Even if it only has one leaf left, there's always hope that it might be revived. We've all seen the never- say-die gardener's house. It has windowsills packed with half living, insect-infested ghosts of Christmas past.

My path is more middle of the road. After years of giving and getting holiday plants I've decided what to do for each.

The traditional poinsettia is the first patient. They look great for weeks after the holidays, so I enjoy them for as long as the red bracts are still colorful. Then I toss them out. The effort it takes to grow them all summer and give a dark treatment all fall to get bracts to turn color in time for Christmas just isn't worth it to me.

Not so with the Christmas cactus. These are perhaps the easiest holiday plants to turn into a regular houseplant in your home. They require little care other than the occasional watering and feeding. Come fall, if placed in a cool room that receives little light in the evening, they will naturally set flower buds and bloom up a storm somewhere between Thanksgiving and Easter. You can keep these plants for years.

Amaryllis are beautiful bulbs that add bright cheery colors in contrast to the stark white outdoors. After they've finished flowering, cut back the bloom stalk, but not the leaves. Place it in a sunny window and keep it watered and fed. In summer, put it on a deck for more sunshine. In September, stop watering, bring it indoors, and place it in a cool basement. Let the foliage naturally die back. After a few months of rest, bring the bulb back into a sunny room, start watering, and probably you'll see a new flower stalk emerge. My experience is after 2 to 3 years the bulb is finally worn out and it's best to start over with a new plant.

Of course, with any houseplant, if it becomes bug infested beyond control, trash it. Better to start anew than to spread pests all over the house because of your soft heart.

This is Charlie Nardozzi in Shelburne.

Charlie Nardozzi is an all-around gardening expert with a special fondness for tomatoes and roses.


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