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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Proper Care Extends Life of Holiday Plants

LAS CRUCES -- Live holiday plants can be popular gift items. But once the holidays are over, keeping exotic houseplants like poinsettias and orchids alive may be challenging for novice gardeners, said a New Mexico State University horticulture specialist.

"Both poinsettias and orchids require bright, but not direct, sunlight," said Curtis Smith with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "Inside the home, this could be a south-facing window with short curtains diffusing the sunlight."

Avoid placing the plants in drafty locations near fans or heating registers. The air movement will cause water to evaporate from the plants' leaves more quickly.

"Poinsettias adapt to drought by dropping their leaves," Smith said. "We don't want that to happen, so don't let the soil dry out."

At the other extreme, overwatering poinsettias may cause root rot, reducing the amount of water taken up by the plants.

"Poinsettias will eventually lose their leaves," he said. "After this happens, give the plant a rest by allowing it to dry out a little. Occasional watering and pruning when the plant starts to come back will result in a fuller plant."

If you want red color for the holidays, give the plant more than 12 hours of darkness a day, beginning with the fall equinox.

Orchids may present a bigger challenge, Smith said. "Under excellent conditions, the colorful flowers can last several months, even if the plant dies. Some people may choose to go this route and treat the plants as cut flowers, adding just enough water to maintain the blooms."

To keep the plants alive and promote growth, place them in a bright, sunny location away from drafts. Keep the potting mix moist and the humidity around the plants high. "Misting the plants with water and grouping them closely together will increase the humidity," he said.

Depending on the variety, some orchids tolerate warm temperatures found in homes. Others may need cooler temperatures.

Smith recommends reading the plants' information labels for more growing tips.