Alternative Holiday Plants
30 November 2005
Virginia Cooperative Extension, Charlottesville/Albemarle County Office
460 Stagecoach Road, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
phone: 434.872.4580 fax: 434.872.4578
The mention of holidays and flowers prompts most of us to think of poinsettias. Our holiday customs have become so entrenched with the use of red poinsettias that several other, well-deserving flowering plants go unnoticed. Not to take anything away from the appealing display of a properly grown, high-quality poinsettia, but some consumers are opting for something a little different in the way of holiday flowers.
There are many other flowering plants which will be available in florist shops, supermarkets, garden centers, and greenhouses during the holidays. By carefully selecting and properly caring for these plants, you can ensure color throughout the holidays.
Amaryllis can be purchased at any stage in its development -- from a single bulb all the way to the "puffy bud" stage. Make sure one third of the bulb (the "nose") is above the soil line; place it in a sunny, warm location and watch the leaves and flower stem elongate. No fertilizer is necessary until after flowering and the medium should be kept on the dry side. Temperatures should be above 60F for this tropical plant, and high light intensities will help ensure the leaves and flower stem do not stretch and topple over. An average of 4 weeks is required from planting the bulb to the first open flower. When you see the flower buds begin to swell and turn color, another day or two will result in open flowers. Larger bulb sizes (10 or more inches in circumference) will result in at least four flower buds, providing a longer bloom period. Amaryllis can also be found in white, pink, and orange shades.
Gloxinias, close relatives of African violets, are low-growing, spreading plants with large, fleshy leaves and small, trumpet-shaped flowers. A high-quality plant will have at least three to five open flowers and at least that many more buds showing in the center of the plant. Properly produced and marketed at the right time, a 6-inch gloxinia will have a dozen or more buds and will continue to flower for 3 to 4 weeks, if properly cared for. In general, gloxinias should be treated as African violets -- avoid high-intensity, direct sunlight; water from the saucer with warm (at least 70F) water; keep on the moist side but not waterlogged; and avoid cold or hot drafts. If allowed to wilt or if placed in too dark a location, most of the buds may fall off. Gloxinias also come in purples, whites, pinks, and bicolors.
The Rieger (or hiemalis) begonia looks very similar to the garden tuberous and `Nonstop' begonia. The leaves are somewhat glossy and brittle, and both single and double flowers may be found on the same plant. Riegers are relatively tolerant of sun exposure and temperature, and prefer a slightly moist medium. A high-quality plant will be at least half covered by flowers.
Perhaps the most durable of the red-flowering potted plants available this time of year are the kalanchoe and the ornamental peppers and cherries. While the peppers and cherries have the longer home-life, both should last at least a month in the home. Even though these peppers are ornamental they can still be hot. Make sure you wash your hands after handling.
You will quickly see the close relationship of the kalanchoe and the common jade plant -- thick, firm, fleshy leaves. However, the kalanchoe leaves are more flattened and tightly packed. They like it warm and dry; if you tend to forget to water your plants, this is the best candidate, though drought-stress will tend to promote shorter flower life. Though one should not think of "abusing" a plant, if you need something for the top of the TV or near the heating registers, this may be it. When buying a kalanchoe, look for lots of color and little or no dead flowers. At least two or three flower clusters should be present on a 4-inch plant, at least four or five on a 6-inch plant.
For more information about landscape topics contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office. The local Virginia Cooperative Extension office numbers are Albemarle 872-4580, Fluvanna 591-1950, Greene 985-5236, Louisa 540-967-3422, and Nelson 263-4035.
Virginia Cooperative Extension will be offering Master Gardener classes in Albemarle, Fluvanna, Louisa, and Nelson counties beginning in January. Please call your local Extension office for more information.