Published on 11/26/03

Holiday plants complement poinsettias, evergreens

By Bodie V. Pennisi
University of Georgia

As you decorate your home for the holidays, consider these colorful complements to the traditional poinsettias and evergreens.

Christmas Cactus. This old-time favorite gets its name from dependable holiday flowering. Actually, three related species look like Christmas cacti. The three types bloom faithfully at different times of the year: Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

They've been extensively hybridized to produce a wide range of flower colors: magenta, white, pink, salmon and orange.

All holiday cacti need bright light and moderate moisture for best growth and flowering. A south window is perfect. After the six-week holiday blooming, remove spent flowers and apply a houseplant fertilizer.

Christmas Pepper. These garden-pepper cultivars are selected for their fruit color and form. The peppers can be globe- or cone-shaped and yellow, orange, red, green or purple, with peak color for one to two months.

The fruits will be brighter and last longer if you provide high light and mild temperatures (60-75 degrees) and keep the soil moist.

Fertilize weekly with a soluble fertilizer. Be aware that these peppers are sometimes extremely hot. Keep them away from small children.

Gloxinia. Look for single or clustered, trumpet-shaped, red, violet-blue, pink, white or bicolored flowers. A 6-inch gloxinia will have a dozen or more buds and will flower three to four weeks if properly cared for. The blooms last four to six days.

Treat gloxinias as African violets: Avoid direct sunlight. Water from the saucer with warm water (at least 70 degrees). Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. Avoid cold or hot drafts.

Unlike African violets, gloxinias need to rest before reflowering. When the leaves start to die back, water it less often. Allow the tuberous stem to rest two to four months in dry soil. Resume watering when new growth appears.

Begonia. The Rieger (or hiemalis) begonia looks much like the garden tuberous and 'nonstop' begonia. The leaves are somewhat glossy and can break easily. Both single and double flowers may be found on the same plant.

Riegers are relatively tolerant of sun exposure and temperature. They prefer a slightly moist soil. A high-quality plant will be at least half-covered by flowers.

Kalanchoe. A succulent plant with fleshy leaves, kalanchoe bears striking, bright clusters of yellow, orange or red, long-lasting flowers. New multicolored selections are available, too.

This plant will be happy when warm and dry. However, drought stress will shorten flower life. Feeding with houseplant fertilizer once a month helps. The plant will rebloom if you place it in artificially short days for six to eight weeks.

Amaryllis. A great spring bulb in the garden, Amaryllis produces spectacular orange, red, white, pink and multicolored blooms. In pots, plants are generally available from Christmas to Easter. They flower four to six weeks after bulbs are planted.

Individual blooms may last three to four days. To reflower, place the plant in bright light (outdoors when temperatures permit). Let the foliage fully develop. Fertilize and water it all summer.

In late summer or fall, as the leaves begin to die back, water less often. When the leaves die, allow the soil to dry out. Place the bulb in a cool, dry place four to eight weeks before resuming watering.

Cyclamen. These beauties show up in stores from October through March. Attractive foliage and a variety of white, pink, lavender, purple, red or bicolor blooms make cyclamens excellent gift plants. They can flower for two to four months with proper care.

Cyclamens like cool indoor temperatures (50-60 degrees), so place them on an east or north window. Take care when watering, as plants are easily damaged from over- or underwatering.

After flowering has stopped, gradually water them less often. After the leaves die, allow the tuberous stem to remain dry six weeks before rewatering.

New foliage will appear after watering resumes. Bright light and cool temperatures, too, may sometimes produce a plant that will reflower.

(Bodie Pennisi is an Extension Service horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Bodie Pennisi is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.