Christmas Cactus,Paperwhite,Narcissus & Other Holiday
time of year when the weather outside turns frightful --
or at least a bit chilly -- and, in northern climates
anyway, there's nothing blooming outside. So it's
natural to crave a little holiday cheer indoors in the
form of live blooming plants. Your local flower shop can
fix you up with several choices, from the ubiquitous
poinsettia to an exotic bromeliad. Two long-time
favorites that are available right now are the
old-fashioned Christmas cactus and the deliriously
fragrant paperwhite narcissus. We'll talk about the
Christmas cactus first.
The plants most commonly known as Christmas cactus are
members of either of two species: Schlumbergera or
Zygocactus. The many cultivars of Schlumbergera
bridgesii are the most commonly available, with flower
colors ranging from red to white with every shade of
peach, pink, fuchsia, and even yellow in between. The
Christmas cactus is an epiphytic (tree- dwelling)
succulent plant, native to the warm, humid rainforests
of Central and South America, and while it is
botanically a true cactus, it should not be treated like
those fat, spiny cacti found in the deserts of the
southwestern United States. Christmas cactus care is
fairly easy. It does well if given plenty of light (but
no direct, burning sun) and regular watering during the
growing season of spring and summer. A little extra
humidity is appreciated too, which can be accomplished
by misting the plant frequently with water. Keep the
plant warm. Soil should be well-drained, and the pot
ought to be a little snug.
In the fall, gradually reduce the amount and frequency
of watering and begin to prepare the plant for dormancy.
This is how to get a Christmas cactus to bloom. Being a
so-called "short day" plant (just like the poinsettia),
a Christmas cactus requires as least 12 hours of
completely uninterrupted darkness every night for about
three weeks beginning October 1st. This long period of
darkness each night induces the plant to set flower
buds, and even the light from an overhead fixture or a
street lamp outside the window can disrupt the cycle.
During dormancy, maintain the soil on the dry side, but
never completely dried out so that the plant shrivels.
Cool nighttime temperatures are preferred for buds to
set -- around 60° F. Beware, however, that buds and
flowers may drop if the plant is too cold, too wet, or
in a draft.
After flowering, the Christmas cactus will need a rest.
Continue to water infrequently and provide cooler night
temperatures. In spring, resume normal watering, keep
the plant warm and humid, and fertilize every two weeks
or so throughout the growing season with a balanced
house plant food. Given proper care, a happy Christmas
cactus can live for decades.
There are no flower bulbs better for forcing than the
paperwhite narcissus, and they're usually available
right about now. You can either buy the pre-cooled,
loose narcissus bulbs by themselves, or ask your florist
for some paperwhites that have already been potted up
and are beginning to sprout. In either case, the bulbs
have already been subjected to an imposed dormant
period, making forcing easier. Besides paperwhites,
loose narcissus bulbs are also available in a yellow
variety called 'Soleil d'Or'. Select large, firm bulbs.
You can plant them closely together in a pot, burying
the bulbs just up to the neck in a well-drained soil
mixture. Keep the soil evenly moist. Or place them in a
shallow dish which is filled with gravel to support the
bulbs. Keep the dish full of water. Start them off in a
dark, cool spot until they begin to sprout.
As the narcissus bulbs start to grow, place them in a
very bright, sunny window. The maximum amount of light
will help keep the growing foliage and flower scapes
from stretching and becoming weak and leggy. If the
stems do get too weak, support them with slender green
plant stakes. Keep the bulbs cooler at night to promote
stocky growth. Forcing paperwhites indoors generally
produces flowers in 3 or 4 weeks. Make successive
plantings to enjoy a longer blooming period. Bulbs that
have been forced usually won't bloom again, so it's best
to discard them after they've flowered.
With a little advance planning -- or some help from your
local florist -- it's possible to have flowers blooming
indoors all winter long. What a lovely way to brighten
the season! And of course, a gift of flowers is always
appreciated. All of us at Flower Shop Network wish you
and yours a very happy and peaceful holiday.
*This article is cited from