Blooming for the Holidays

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We are in the holiday season and probably overwhelmed with an overloaded list of things to do, and invited to more events than we have time for, but let’s slow down and take a breath. I realize I “preach” gardening all the time, but it is true – gardening can reduce stress and help calm the soul. I also realize we are fast approaching winter, which allows for very little gardening. The beauty is, even in December we can have some soothing blooms to focus on. We have several plants that offer indoor blooms for you to enjoy this holiday season. There is the traditional poinsettia, offered in many colors and even bi-colors now. We see holiday cacti blooming now, as well as amaryllis bulbs showing promise of a future floral display. Or how about the fragrant paperwhites, another bulb that can be forced to bloom this time of year. These selections may offer a suggestion for that avid gardener on your gift list.

Amaryllis and paperwhites are bulbs that can be enjoyed this wintry season, and planted in the garden after the last frost for summer growth and a possible chance to flower again, but surely a flower will form the next spring. Both of these need bright light, and avoid drafty places when finding the perfect spot for your plant. Amaryllis can be purchased in grow kits that contain all you need to provide for the bulb to flower. Recently waxed or painted bulbs, even moss covered (my favorite) that are not in soil have grown in popularity. Flowering uses energy stored in the bulb with no extra nutrients or water added. These bulbs usually have the bottom of the bulb along with the roots cut off so they will sit flat. After flowering, I removed the outer layers of wax and/or moss and set the bulb in a shallow pan of water and it did grow roots, enabling planting outside after any danger of frost.

I will use the term holiday cactus to include what some call Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas cactus, depending on when it blooms, but actually these are different species of flowering cacti that look very similar. There are differences; one of the most obvious is found in the shape of the leaf segments or clades. The Easter cactus has flattened clades with rounded scalloped edges. The Thanksgiving cactus clades have claw-like appendages. Christmas cactus tends to have scalloped edges with the clade shaped more like an arrowhead. Overwatering is the most common mistake made with these indoor plants. Water all but the paperwhites after the top inch of the potting media becomes dry to the touch. The paperwhites usually sit in shallow water that should be changed weekly.

Hopefully you now feel free to enjoy some indoor blooms this holiday season, or are a little at ease to purchase one of these for someone you have on your list. Wishing each of you a very merry holiday season filled with peace, joy, love, and laughter, and a prosperous new year. 2024 here we come!

For more information, contact Mack Johnson, Extension Horticultural Agent, at 910-671-3276, by Email at, or visit our website.