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Taking care of indoor plants

December 17, 2009
Bethke Stephanie-DeJaeghere

There are not many of us who keep our homes below 50 F, but if we did, cyclamens would be happy, says Carl Hoffman, University of Minnesota Extension horticulturist. The florist cyclamen, Cyclamen persicum, prefers night temperatures of 40 to 50 F and daytime temperatures below 65 F. To prolong the blooming period, select a plant that has only a few flowers open, but many buds. Cyclamens grow from tubers. They will rot easily if improperly watered so they should be watered from the bottom or, when watered from the top, use care to keep water from the crown of the plant.

Allow the surface of the soil to dry slightly before you water, but do not wait until the plant begins to wilt. If placed in a room with cold to cool temperatures, bright light and when watered properly, cyclamen plants can be expected to remain attractive for up to two months.

Indoor azaleas (Rhododendron sp) with their masses of double or semi-double flowers in colors including white, pinks, salmons, reds and bicolors make a commanding holiday accent. With optimum temperatures of 45 to 55 F at night and up to 68 F during the day, azaleas will remain attractive for a month or more. Azaleas need to be kept constantly moist and should be watered thoroughly whenever the soil in the pot feels dry to the touch.

Azalea plants will drop their leaves if allowed to get too dry or if they are placed in a room with low humidity. For maximum performance, place your azalea where it receives at least four hours of bright, indirect light each day. An indoor azalea in full bloom is truly a living bouquet.

Orchids are an extremely diverse group of plants and there are representatives that will fit nearly every indoor condition, including cool temperatures. A Cymbidium orchid plant in bloom with a huge spray of beautiful waxy flowers will make an outstanding accent or gift. There are both standard and miniature forms of Cymbidiums. Paphiopedilum or lady slipper orchids are terrestrial orchids and require less light than many of the other orchids. There are two main groups of Paphiopedilums: those with variegated or mottled leaves which require warmer temperatures, and those with green leaves which require cool growing conditions. Their beautiful flowers with their distinctive pouches may last two months or more under good conditions. Because Paphiopedilums grow naturally on the forest floor, they require a potting medium that contains some peat moss with the bark, and less light than do the Cymbidiums.

The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergia) is a beautiful plant that enjoys bright indirect light and cool temperatures, particularly when in bloom. Warm temperatures or drafts will cause the flowers and buds to drop prematurely.

Purchase a plant that has many buds that are showing color and then place it where it receives bright light without high temperatures. Purchasing a Christmas cactus can be a long time investment as I have seen specimens that have been in families for 30 years or more. The soil should be kept moist, but allowed to dry slightly between waterings.

Christmas cactus plants can be frustrating because the flowering period is affected by both day length and temperatures and it may be difficult to get them to bloom during the holidays. To initiate flowering, they require short days of less than 12 hours of light and temperatures of less than 68 F. At temperatures of less than 55 F, the buds will form regardless of day length. If your room only drops to 60 or 65 at night, you need to cover the cactus or put it in a dark closet for at least 12 hours each night to trigger blooming. Unfortunately, a plant grown at temperatures above 70 F probably will not flower regardless of the day length.

Norfolk Island Pine can be a beautiful focal plant in your home if you have a place where it receives bright light for at least part of the day. They will tolerate lower light for a while, but if not returned to bright light, the branches will droop and the new growth will be weak and pale colored.

The most common problems Norfolk Island Pine face indoors are browning needles and dropping lower branches. Usually they can be attributed to hot dry air, low humidity, or allowing the soil to dry excessively before watering.

Too much fertilizer can also contribute to needle drop and branch loss. Keep the soil moist, but not saturated, and water the plant whenever the soil surface feels dry.

Adding a few holiday plants to your household will help to add warmth and a little more color to your holiday season.

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