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Tips to help houseplants last longer than holidays

A plant is among the nicest gifts you can give at Christmas, either to one who loves plants or just to one who never really looked at plants much but does appreciate their alive look.

A plant is among the nicest gifts you can give at Christmas, either to one who loves plants or just to one who never really looked at plants much but does appreciate their alive look.

Stores have all sorts of them. Pick one you like. If you are worried you won't be able to care for it, the kind of care you give any houseplant will be all right. Maybe it won't last so long, but enjoy it as long as you can. And you may be really surprised: It may be with you a lot longer than you think.

Most of them like as much sun as you can give it. It also likes cool temperatures and as much humidity as you can provide. Thus, you will find that if you have a south window or east window that has a good exposure, you will have done the very best you can. Here are a few tips to help:

A cool temperature will let the plant last longer. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. If the pot is encased in a decorative wrap, punch some holes in it so the excess water can escape. Use lukewarm water.

After about 10 minutes, empty the saucer.

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E Poinsettia: Particularly susceptible to drafts, either from a hot air register or near a door when it is opened.

E Azalea: Lots of water. Check often, perhaps twice a day, especially when you put it outside for the summer. If you want to treat it special, melt some snow for it because it doesn't particularly care for alkaline water from the tap.

E Jerusalem cherry and pepper plant: Needs lots of water. It helps to mist the plant with a spray bottle.

E Christmas cactus: If you have been able to get it to bloom, it should be fine if you treat it as recommended for the others.

Will any of these plants bloom again? A few will, but you will need to give them some special treatment. With azaleas, cut them back after flowering has stopped, and when it is spring, you can move them outdoors to a partially shaded spot. Fertilize with an acid-type fertilizer regularly. Make sure the plant doesn't get too dry. In September, move the plant indoors and keep it in cool temperatures.

If your chrysanthemum is a garden variety, place that outside in spring too. But if it is a florist kind, it's not hardy. How can you tell?

Mostly, the seller will label them so.

The poinsettia will bloom again, but I have to tell you it is difficult and the bloom is not as good as that from the greenhouse. You will be happier if you buy your next one.

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If you receive a "beautiful bulb" - an amaryllis - you have received good instructions on how to plant it. And you will also have directions on how to bloom it again. No problems here. Enjoy it.

Readers can reach Forum gardening columnist Dorothy Collins at dorothycollins@i29.net

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