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Gardens: Saving the Season

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Keep holiday plants alive and thriving for years to come

The gorgeous blooms of fall mums and holiday plants such as amaryllis, Christmas cactus and poinsettias are a delight to see this time of year. The fate of those plants once they’ve bloomed their hearts out, however, can be troublesome.

Though all these plants bring festive color, texture and sometimes fragrance to our homes and offices, all too often they are tossed in the trash or compost once their splendor is spent or the season is over. It seems such a waste, but that waste can be reduced, if not avoided, with a little nurturing.

Since each plant species has different, specific needs, knowing how to nurture their individual needs is important. However, many times these plants don’t come with care instructions, so you may have to do some research on your own. If that’s the case, consult your local garden center or Alabama Cooperative Extension System expert or research the plants at your local library or online (though make sure to use credible garden resources; not everything we read on the internet is true!).

What’s important is to care for them properly from the minute they come in the door, which ensures they are healthy and happy throughout the season and prepares them for a long and happy future. Using your research findings, provide them with the proper amount of light and water and make sure they are not exposed to extreme cold or heat.

When they stop blooming or you’re through using them for seasonal decorations, it’s time to settle them in for those long winter nights. If you’re planning to keep them in their original containers for a while, remove any foil, paper or plastic holiday wrapping from around their pots and make sure the pots have holes in the base to allow water to drain away. If the plants seem root-bound or crowded in their current containers, transfer them into larger pots for overwintering.

A number of plants, such as mums and the small rosemary shrubs often sold during the holidays as decorative potted plants, can become permanent additions to your outdoor landscape. Other plants that you want to repot for the coming year can be put into a sheltered spot in the landscape or placed in a cold frame for the winter, then repotted in the spring. Still others, such as poinsettias and Christmas cactus, can be kept in their existing pots, but need to be tucked away in a dark, temperate spot for a while to give them a rest period before they will re-bloom.

Again, each plant species likely has specific needs, so make sure you do that research to ensure you are giving them the appropriate kind of nurturing. To get you started, here are some basic hints for two of the easiest plants to save this fall and winter.

Mums
While they are blooming, keep the soil around your mums moist but not soggy, and give them lots of sunlight. You can also pinch off spent flowers to prolong bloom.

Once it finishes blooming, store a potted mum in a protected area, such as a garage, basement or storage shed, or plant it in a sunny spot in the landscape and give it a blanket of loose mulch. Keep the mum lightly watered and leave dead foliage on the plants until it begins to put out new green growth, then trim off dead plant material and watch it come back to life.

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Amaryllis
Keep flowering amaryllis in a cool area of the house and water just enough to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Cut off flower stalks as each bloom fades but leave the foliage. New flowers may emerge throughout the winter so don’t give up on them right away.

When they stop blooming entirely, you can leave them in their pots as houseplants throughout the year or plant them directly into the landscape. At this point they need lots of sunlight to encourage foliage growth.

If you want an amaryllis to re-bloom for the holidays, stop watering the bulb in mid-August and place it in a closet or other cool, dry place. Eight to 10 weeks before you want it to bloom, bring the amaryllis out of storage, place it in a sunny spot and begin to water it regularly. New flower stalks should begin to emerge just in time for a holiday show.


November Tips

  • Cover outside faucets to protect them from freezing.
  • Drain hoses and store them in a frost-free location.
  • Plant beets, carrots, radishes, garlic, asparagus and strawberries.
  • Plant cold-hardy annual flowers such as pansies.
  • Plant woody shrubs, vines, trees and roses.
  • Seal containers of unused pesticides and store them freeze-protected locations.
  • Turn the compost pile.
  • Mulch newly planted trees and shrubs and tender perennials.
  • Clean mowers and other gardening tools before storing them for the winter.
  • Start collecting seed and plant catalogs.

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at katielamarjackson@gmail.com.