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Know It and Grow It: Tips for success with holiday plants

Know It and Grow It
Lead Summary
George Bonnema, Luverne Horticulturalist

We visited our son in Detroit over Thanksgiving weekend, and that trip always includes visiting a couple of the biggest and best greenhouses in the city as well as the Eastern Market in downtown Detroit. For a gardening and plant addict, this makes driving 14 hours each way a bonus on top of the time spent with Grant.
I am inspired but not tempted by some of the plants and fresh holiday décor we get to see. Case in point were the beautiful white hellebores loaded with flowers and buds … excellent plants for a greenhouse, not so much for our homes. They thrive in a cool environment, but humans tend to like warm, and you can’t please both, so the plant will soon become the victim.
Another holiday temptation are paper white narcissus bulbs. They are fun to force and will grow and bloom quickly in a tray of rocks and water. The description says the flowers are fragrant … and they are. What the description doesn’t say is what that fragrance is like. If you want to know, try growing them.
Flowering plants that are traditional but more sure to please are cyclamen, poinsettias and amaryllis.
Poinsettias are a traditional favorite. The colored leaves are just that. The flowers are the tiny yellow cyathia in the center of the colored leaf cluster. The plants are happiest with uniformly moist soil. Too wet will rot the roots. Dry to the point of wilting, even just a little, will result in leaf drop. Bright indirect sun will keep the plant happy.
Cyclamen plants grow from a bulb (corm) that sits at soil level. The plant will continue blooming throughout the winter if given the right conditions.
Any blooming plant has a higher light requirement than do non-bloomers because sunlight gives energy, and energy is necessary for the plant to continue producing flower buds.
Cyclamen grow best in a cool, (although not as cool as the aforementioned hellebore) brightly lit area. An east-facing window is perfect. This is another plant that prefers uniformly moist soil, and by uniformly moist, I’m referring to moist like a cake is moist. When the flower on the stem has finished blooming, give the stem a gentle “tug” to pull it off the bulb. I know people who have successfully kept a cyclamen in bloom year-round for several years.
Amaryllis are the drama plants for winter. They grow from a bulb, and like a tulip, the flower buds form in the bulb prior to its going dormant. Your job as the plant keeper is to persuade that flower to come out of the bulb and bless you with its beauty.
In recent years “waxed” bulbs are the easy route because you don’t have to plant the bulb in soil. Looks easy and is easy, but I have yet to see a real success story. The flower stem gets pretty heavy so if it actually gets to that stage, it is difficult to keep it standing upright. And when it’s done or you’re tired of it, you pitch it … end of story.
On the other hand, I believe that when I purchase a bulb like this, I am making an investment it its future, and my plan is to have the joy of a repeat performance year after year.
Next week, I’ll tell you how to make that happen.

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