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Taking care of your live Christmas plants.
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Don't forget to fertilize and water throughout the growing season. After the first of September, cut it back to 4 to 6 inches again. Remove the poinsettia from the ground and repot it in a slightly larger pot. If it is in a 6-inch pot, plant it in 7- or 7-inch pot.
You can leave the repotted plant outdoors until the first of October unless a frost is expected. Beginning the first week of October, you'll need to start a period of 12 to 13 hours of total darkness for the plant to induce the poinsettia to flower, a process called photoperiodism.
Since we naturally get about 12 hours of darkness in Virginia in October, you can place your poinsettia in a sunny window of a room that receives no artificial light. By the beginning of November, flower buds will start to form. If you do not have a room that will remain dark all night, you'll have to put the plant in a closet at 5 p.m. each day and return it to the sunny window at 7 or 8 the next morning. Be sure not to open the closet, even for a short period of time. Room temperature should be 60 to 65 degrees.
By following this procedure each year, you will be rewarded with a beautiful poinsettia in full bloom for many holidays to come.
Christmas cactus is another popular holiday plant that's a little easier to take care of than the poinsettia, but they require a period of light deprivation as well in order to bloom.
There are two distinct common species of holiday cactus: the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) and the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata).
There are many new hybrids that bloom naturally around Thanksgiving, while the old-fashioned Christmas cactus requires a period of 50-degree nights in the fall, causing the plant to bloom around Christmas.
Start the cold treatment in early November. With either species, once in bloom, they prefer bright, indirect light and temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees. After the cactus has bloomed, place it in a slightly cooler place and water less frequently for the rest of winter.
If you receive a Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) for the holidays, you can keep it in bloom for several months. Place it in a well-lit window, but keep in mind that Cyclamen will not tolerate day temperatures above 65 degrees and need cool night temperatures below 50.
Keep the soil moist, but avoid watering the crown in order to avoid crown rot. Remove any excess water in the saucer. Since Cyclamen is hard to re-bloom, you may want to discard it after the flowers are spent.
Guy J. Mussey is an agent in Virginia Cooperative Extension's Stafford County office, specializing in environmental horticulture. Phone 540/658-8000; fax 540/658-8006; email email@example.com.