How to care for blooming plant gifts
Many people receive plants as gifts over the holidays. Some of these plants can continue to provide enjoyment for quite a while with good care.
A cyclamen plant will continue to bloom for a few weeks if it is kept in a north window in a cool room (55 to 60 degrees) and watered enough to keep the soil evenly moist but never soggy. When you water, avoid splashing the crown of the plant or the foliage as this might promote mold. Remove fading flowers and their stems as needed.
Most gardeners find it too difficult to force a cyclamen to bloom again the following season. Those willing to take the challenge should follow these suggestions: As the foliage and flowers begin to fade, withhold water. Remove all dead foliage from the tuber, clean off the soil, and store the tuber in peat moss or vermiculite in a dark, cool spot (about 50 degrees) while it is dormant in late winter and early spring.
Later in the spring or early summer, check the tuber for new growth. As soon as growth begins, repot the tuber with its top half exposed and its bottom half buried in fresh soilless potting mix. Resume normal watering and fertilize the plant with a dilute 10-10-10 or 15-15-15 mix twice a month. Cyclamen benefits from summers spent outside in a protected spot in the garden where it receives morning sun and afternoon shade. Bring the plant indoors before there is a frost in fall.
An ivy topiary is a popular houseplant that can last for years if given proper care. Ivy prefers cool conditions in bright light away from heating vents or fireplaces. Mist the plant regularly or swish it upside down in a bucket of tepid water to keep the foliage clean and free of mites.
As new growth emerges, train the tendrils to the desired form, trimming as necessary. You can move the plant outside after the danger of frost is past.
Kalanchoes have small brightly colored flowers in a wide range of colors including yellow, orange, pink, red and white. They are succulents, like cactuses, native to dry areas, so they should never be overwatered and need no extra humidity. They prefer bright light, sparse watering and no fertilizer while in bloom. A kalanchoe can flower for a long time, especially if the plant had lots of buds and fewer open flowers when it was purchased.
When produced as houseplants, kalanchoes often are manipulated by growers to ensure they bloom in the colder months. If you want to try to get the plant to flower again, wait until all the flowers have dried and then cut them off. Move the plant to a shadier window and reduce watering to force it into a dormant period. When new buds appear in one to two months, move the plant back into bright light, resume watering and fertilize twice a month with a dilute balanced fertilizer. You can move the plant outside to a part-sun location in early summer and bring back inside as night temperatures begin to drop below 40 degrees. If the plant needs to be repotted, use a cactus mix for extra-good drainage.
• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.
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