For many, giving holiday plants is an annual tradition. The one we likely think of most often is the poinsettia; yet mums, azaleas, cyclamen, and Christmas cactus are given frequently too. How well these holiday plants hold up and continue to give us enjoyment depends on their care. Proper management of those plants can extend the bloom show and foliage for several weeks, or maybe months. Some will even give us repeat enjoyment.
Most of the holiday plants like very bright, but indirect light, and moist yet well-drained potting soil. Not that sunlight is a bad thing; it just causes the soil in the pots to dry sooner. Holiday plants already are taking up more soil moisture due to higher transpiration rates being inside where the air is typically drier in the winter months. 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.
In addition, holiday plants, just like the rest of our indoor plants, do not do well if the soil remains too wet over a long time. Soils that are kept too wet will cause roots to rot and die due to a lack of soil air in the pot. Those holiday plants that are kept too wet could have the same appearance of a plant that is in need of moisture – wilted. Managing soil moisture then becomes a bigger challenge. Repeated wilting – from either cause – will quickly shorten the bloom show. Plants that remain wilted also will have root loss just like those over-watered.
Besides visually seeing drooping leaves, the best tool you can use to determine if your holiday plant needs water is your index finger. Some gardeners also will use a toothpick or pencil method. Using a finger, clean toothpick or sharpened pencil, stick it down into the pot away from the edge (where soil is always 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. One other technique used is to pick up the plant and if it needs water, it will be considerably lighter in weight.
If your testing tool comes back out muddy, you have a waterlogged plant and that spells trouble. Because these 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.
When you do need to water, the best way is to use enough water so it collects in the tray or saucer below, then wait about 5 minutes, and drain away the excess. To learn more about poinsettias, visit https://extension.illinois.edu/poinsettia/