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With a little TLC, holiday plants will last longer

A cat peers around poinsettias at a Tennessee plant farm. A little care will keep those plants fresh-looking for awhile.
A cat peers around poinsettias at a Tennessee plant farm. A little care will keep those plants fresh-looking for awhile. The Associated Press

Happy holidays! Both Christmas (on Sunday) and the first night of Hanukkah (on Saturday) fall this weekend. Did someone get a gift plant? You can keep it merry and bright a little longer with these tips.

▪  Prolong the life of potted poinsettias with a little TLC. They love a cool window with half-day sun or filtered light. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch, but don’t let them get soggy. Punch holes in that pretty foil wrapping to allow drainage. Avoid heat or drafts, too.

▪  Cyclamen, another popular gift plant, can be kept blooming inside through March. As each flower fades, remove the entire flower stalk (a sharp little tuck usually works). That prompts new flowers to emerge from its tuber. Cyclamens like a cool room (50 to 55 degrees at night, 60 to 68 degrees during the day) with bright light and good air circulation. (They’re great in drafty old houses.)

The tuber, which is half-buried in the soil, may rot if watered directly. Instead, place the plant in a saucer of water and let it soak up the moisture. Feed every other week with half-strength houseplant fertilizer.

Cyclamen will go dormant in late spring as the leaves die back. Place the potted tuber in a shady place in the garden, then bring it back inside in September or October. The change of surroundings (and warmer indoor temperatures) usually prompts a new cycle of cyclamen blooms.

▪  Moth or phalaenopsis orchids have become very popular gift plants, too. These easy-care orchids like indirect bright light, a spot out of drafts or direct heat, and temperatures in the low 70s – just like your kitchen. Water them sparingly. Try this trick: Place two or three ice cubes on the growing medium, not leaves or roots, once a week. As the ice melts, that’s all the water they need. They’ll keep blooming six to eight weeks.

Elsewhere in your gardening world:

▪  If an onion sprouts in your vegetable drawer, pot it up and place it in a sunny window. The bulb will soon produce bright-green tops – great for salads, baked potatoes or other uses.

▪  Prune deciduous trees now while you can see their true shape and framework. (The exceptions are apricot trees, which are usually pruned in August.) Remove crossing branches and dead wood. Make cuts above an outside-facing bud or existing lateral branch.

▪  Bare-root roses, fruit trees, cane berries and grapes can be planted now. Before planting, hydrate by soaking roots in water overnight.

▪  Shield frost-tender plants such as citrus and succulents on cold nights with a cloth sheet – not plastic. If a plant has already been burned by frost, leave the damage alone until spring. That brown foliage can protect the plant from further harm.

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