Caring For Holiday Plants

— Written By and last updated by Kate Holt
red poinsettia

Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

While the Christmas tree may be the plant most commonly associated with the holidays, flowers like poinsettias, Christmas cactus, and amaryllis are an equally important part of the Christmas tradition and are widely available from garden centers this time of the year. The following tips will help you get the most Christmas cheer out of these favorite holiday plants.

The easiest way to keep any plant healthy is to buy a healthy plant to begin with. When picking out poinsettias, look for plants that have lots of dark green foliage from top to bottom. Plants that have yellowing lower leaves will not last as long as those whose lower leaves are still dark green.

To get the most out of a Christmas cactus, purchase plants that have a healthy green color and lots of unopened flowers. Plants purchased that are already in full bloom will not flower as long, once you get them home.

burgundy amaryllis flower

John Ruter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

Amaryllis are usually purchased as bulbs rather than growing plants. When purchasing amaryllis bulbs make sure to choose large, firm bulbs free of cuts or bruises. Bulb size is important because the flowers the plant will produce, are already inside the bulb. Larger bulbs will have bigger flowers and will produce more flowering stalks.

Indoors, amaryllis, poinsettias, and Christmas cactus will grow best in a brightly lit, warm (60 to 75 degree) area away from cold drafts. These tropical plants prefer moist air so avoid a location near heating or air conditioner vents. Keeping these plants evenly moist, but not overwatered, is the real key to success. Like most houseplants, poinsettia, amaryllis, and Christmas cactus especially resent staying wet and will rot if kept continuously soggy. The most accurate way to tell if a potted plant needs to be watered is to check the potting soil. When the soil feels dry and the containers feel light when lifted, it is time to water.

The best way to water houseplants is in the sink. Be sure to remove potted plants from decorative cachepots or foil wrappers before watering. Add water until it begins to drain out of the bottom of the pot and then allow the plant to drain for a few minutes before returning it to its normal location. When watering plants in containers that have saucers underneath be sure to pour out any excess water the saucer captures after each watering.

Room temperature water is best for watering houseplants. While some people advocate watering with ice cubes, remember that these are tropical plants and can be damaged by ice that touches their leaves or stems. Rain water collected in a rain barrel or well water are ideal since they are less likely  to contain additives that may injure sensitive plants. If you are using tap water that has been fluoridated, fill your watering can but then allow it to sit for several hours or overnight before using to allow the fluoride to dissipate. Do not use water treated by a water softener. Softened water contains sodium which can accumulate in potting soil and burn plant roots.

With a little care, these plants will provide bright, cheerful additions to your holiday décor.