Published on 11/18/04

Colorful plants brighten the holiday season

By Bodie V. Pennisi
University of Georgia

The holidays are here. It's time to decorate our homes in the spirit of the season. Here are some colorful plants to complement the traditional poinsettias and evergreens in your home decor.

Christmas cactus. Actually, three related cactus species dependably bloom on different holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. All have been extensively crossbred to produce flower colors, including magenta, white, pink, salmon and orange.

All holiday cactuses need bright light and moderate moisture to grow and flower best. A south window is the perfect spot for them. After the six weeks of holiday blooming, remove the spent flowers and apply a houseplant fertilizer.

Christmas peppers are garden pepper cultivars selected for fruit color and form. The fruits can be globe- or cone-shaped and yellow, orange, red, green or purple. Their peak color lasts one to two months. These peppers can be extremely hot, so keep them away from small children.

The peppers will be brighter and last longer if you'll keep the plants in bright light, mild temperatures and moist soil. Fertilize them weekly with a soluble fertilizer.

Gloxinias have single or clustered red, violet-blue, pink, white or bicolor, trumpet-shaped flowers. A 6-inch plant can have a dozen flowers over four weeks, each lasting up to six days.

Keep gloxinias out of direct sunlight and cold or hot drafts. Water them from the saucer with warm water. Keep them moist but not waterlogged. When the leaves start dying back, water them less often. Let them dry out for two to four months. Resume watering when new growth appears.

Begonias. Rieger begonias look much like garden tuberous and nonstop begonias. The leaves are somewhat glossy and can break easily.

Both single and double flowers may be on the same plant. Riegers are fairly tolerant of sun and temperature. They prefer slightly moist soil. A high-quality plant will be at least half covered by flowers.

Kalanchoes have fleshy leaves and striking, bright clusters of yellow, orange or red, long-lasting flowers. New multicolored selections are available, too.

They will be happiest if you keep them warm and dry. Drought stress, though, will shorten the flowers' life. Feeding with houseplant fertilizer once a month helps. Kalanchoes will rebloom if you place it in artificially short days for six to eight weeks.

Amaryllises have spectacular orange, red, white, pink and multicolored blooms. They flower four to six weeks after you plant them, each bloom lasting three to four days.

To get them to reflower, place them in bright light. Move them outdoors when the weather warms. Water and fertilize them, and let the foliage develop all summer. As the leaves begin dying, water them less often. When they die, let the soil dry out. Keep the bulbs in a cool, dry place for a month or two. Then start watering again.

Cyclamens show up in stores from October through March. They have attractive foliage and white, pink, lavender, purple, red or bicolor blooms. They can flower for four months with proper care.

Place them in a cool east or north window. Water them carefully -- not too much or too little. When they stop flowering, gradually water less often. After the leaves die, let the stem stay dry for six weeks. When you resume watering then, new foliage will appear. Bright light and cool temperatures may sometimes get them to reflower.

Blushing bromeliads have an open rosette of strap-shaped, toothed, mid-green or variegated leaves, with the inner leaves purplish to red. The flowers are violet or lavender.

Bromeliads like bright light and warmth. Don't overwater them. But keep the central vase, formed by the leaves, filled with rain or distilled water. Feed them by spraying the leaves with a dilute fertilizer solution.

(Bodie Pennisi is a horticulturist specializing in greenhouse flowers 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.