Even as warmer weather tempts us outside, inside are the pathetic remains of the once-beautiful gifts that heralded Christmas and Valentine’s Day: raggedy Christmas cactus, floppy-leaved amaryllis, pots of hyacinths and daffodils with shriveled flowers, sulky cyclamen.
Now they’ve been joined by that Easter favorite, pots of sweet-scented white lilies.
Can these plants be saved?
That depends on conditions in your home and how hard you want to work.
It’s easy to keep Christmas cactuses and amaryllises flourishing and flowering for many years. A few bulbs, including hyacinths and Easter lilies, sometimes flower for a time when transplanted into the garden. And while I consider cyclamen too fussy to bother with, patient gardeners who take the time and effort to create ideal conditions in their homes may coax these beauties back into bloom.
Christmas blooms again
Easy-care Christmastime favorites — cactus and amaryllis — can live for years. In fact, some Christmas cactuses are handed down in families like heirlooms.
While they’re actively growing in spring and summer, these cactuses like bright but indirect light (direct sun can burn them) and regular watering (never let them sit in water).
Christmas cactuses can spend summer outdoors in a shady spot. Once temps drop below 50 degrees at night, bring them inside and put them in a place where there’s bright light during the day and darkness once the sun goes down. Supposedly even the glow from a streetlight can inhibit flowering.
I don’t have an ideal place for my Christmas cactuses. They sit in a drafty south window where they get too much sun in the summer and too much cold in the winter, yet they always bloom heavily.
Amaryllises are even easier than Christmas cactuses. After the flowers fade, let the flower stems dry up, then remove them. I put amaryllis out on a shaded deck for the summer. The leaves that multiply over the summer feed the bulb, giving it the energy to bloom again the next winter.
Water sparingly and make sure the upper half of the bulb is above soil level, or it may rot. In October, take your amaryllis inside and put it in a dark, cool place where the plant can go dormant.
Ignore them until December or January, when you can remove the shriveled leaves, put the bulbs in a bright location, water and watch the whole cycle start again.
Hyacinths and lilies
If only other potted bulbs were so easy.
While most bulbs that have been forced to bloom in winter are exhausted by their one-time show, I’ve transplanted hyacinths into the garden and gotten them to flower for a couple of springs before fading away. If you want to try this, save the bulbs in a cool place until fall, letting the leaves die back. Then plant the bulbs outside in September. Or you can plant the bulbs, leaves and all, in the garden this spring. (Letting the leaves die back will give the plant the strength to bloom again.)
Easter lilies, too, can sometimes do well when planted in the garden. Let the tops die back and once the weather warms, plant the bulbs about 6 inches deep in a sunny, well-drained spot in the garden. Your transplanted lilies will likely skip a year before blooming the following summer.
For me, cyclamen is a challenge to grow even as a houseplant. But Mary Yee and Grace Anderson, two Hennepin County master gardeners, have kept them successfully year after year.
Their advice is to give the plants bright light but no direct sunlight, keep them moist but never let them sit in water. Cyclamens like cool temperatures, and will hold their blooms for several months if they’re happy.
Yee said the plants go dormant in late spring or summer, dying back to the tuber. She lets them go totally dry during this time. If you’re lucky, the plants will begin to show signs of life in the fall, and that’s when you resume watering.
Mary Jane Smetanka is a master gardener and a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.