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The giving of holiday plants has become for many homes an annual family tradition. The one we think of most often of course is the poinsettia, yet mums, azaleas, cyclamen, and Christmas cactus are also given frequently. How well those holiday plants hold up and continue to give us enjoyment depends on the care given. Taking good care of those plants can extend the bloom show and foliage for several weeks or even months.

Most of the holiday plants like very bright, but indirect light, moist and yet well drained potting soil. Not that sunlight is a bad thing; it just causes the soil in the pots to dry sooner as the holiday plants are taking up more soil moisture due to higher transpiration rates. Managing soil moisture then becomes a bigger challenge. Holiday plants, just like the rest of our indoor plants, do not do well if overwatered or if the soil remains too wet over a long period of time. Soils that are kept too wet will cause roots to rot and die due to a lack of soil air in the pot. Holiday plants that are too wet can have the same appearance of a plant that is in need of moisture, they look wilted. Repeated wilting between watering will quickly shorten the bloom show. Plants that remain wilted will also have root loss just like those overly watered. Large blooming holiday plants growing in small containers can quickly move the available moisture from the soil into the plant and run out of soil moisture quickly. Once this happens and the plant wilts, they never quite recover and last as long as they should.

The best tool you can use to determine if your holiday plant needs water besides visually seeing drooping leaves and blooms is your finger. Some gardeners will also use the toothpick or pencil method. Using a clean toothpick or sharpened pencil, stick it down into the pot away from the edge (where soil is always be drier). If it comes up clean, the soil is dry and the plant needs to be watered. If it comes up moist, wait to water. If the toothpick or pencil comes back out muddy, you have a waterlogged plant and that spells trouble. Because our plants are in pots they do not have the benefit of gravity pulling excess moisture down and out of the pot. This is why a good potting soil must drain well. Try tipping the pot on edge and you will see water start to seep out of the lowest drainage hole in the pot. The better way to water is to use enough water so it collects in the tray or saucer below, wait about 5 minutes, and then drain away the excess.

Another tip to keep those holiday gift plants looking their best is to place them in a cooler location, especially at night. High nighttime temperatures can cause the plants to stretch and get leggy and dry out quicker. Keep them away from heat registers and the top of hot TV's. If you are slightly uncomfortable in a room kept in the mid to low 60's, your plants will be right a home.