A Guide to Gifting and Caring for Holiday Plants
From the traditional poinsettia to the big and bold amaryllis, holiday plants can provide a dazzling pop of color to your home. Here’s a handy how-to if you are gifted with a holiday plant (or if you gift yourself with one.)
With more than 70 million sold nationwide each year, this holiday staple is the most popular flowering plant sold in the United States. The poinsettia (pȯin-ˈse-tē-ə and pȯin-ˈse-tə are both acceptable pronunciations) originates in Mexico, where it’s an outdoor shrub that reaches 8-10 feet tall. When you bring your poinsettia home, place it near a sunny window where it will receive direct sunlight. A southeast, east or west facing window is the best choice. Poinsettias are very susceptible to changes in temperature, whether from heating ducts or drafts from outside, so place your plant in a location where the temperature is stable between 55 and 70 degrees. Water it with room temperature water when the soil becomes dry. Allow the water to drain completely, the poinsettia doesn’t like wet feet. Contrary to popular belief, the poinsettia is not deadly to pets, but it can cause mouth and stomach irritation and vomiting, so it’s best to keep the plant out of your pet’s reach.
There are two types of cacti that are popular gifts. The Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) both have blooms in shades of red, rose, purple, lavender, peach, orange, cream, and white. You can tell the difference between them by looking at the leaf segments. On the Thanksgiving cactus, the segments each have two to four saw-toothed notches along the margins. The margins on the Christmas cactus are more rounded. These cacti enjoy four to six hours of indirect sunlight. They can be a bit fussy. Too little light can lead to wilting, while direct sun can burn the leaves. Keep the soil moist and don’t let the air get too dry. Water when the top inch of soil feels dry. Also, beware of drafts and temperature extremes, which can cause flower buds to drop. There are steps you can take to get your cactus to rebloom each year.
The showy amaryllis has large, trumpet-shaped flowers in white, pink, red and bicolor and typically have two to six flowers per stalk. The sun-loving amaryllis grows best indoors in a well-lighted area that receives at least four hours of direct sunlight each day. A southern window exposure is best, while an eastern- or western-facing window can also work. The amaryllis prefers warm temperatures (70 to 75 degrees) for best growth until the roots form and the leaves and flower stalk begins to grow. Once the plant flowers, cooler temperatures will prolong the life of the blossoms. Keep the bulb in a slightly moist soil condition until flowering. When flowering starts, increase the frequency of watering. It’s best to water your plant when the soil surface feels dry to the touch. Watering once per week is usually adequate.
The cyclamen is a tuberous plant with heart-shaped green foliage mottled with silver. The butterfly-like blooms come in shades of white, pink, rose, purple and red. Cyclamens prefer cool temperatures and bright indirect light. An east- or west-facing window is a good choice but southern exposure may be too bright. Keep the plant moist but not soggy. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch, and water along the edge of the pot or from below to avoid causing the tuber to rot. Removal of spent flowers can encourage more flowers to develop. The cyclamen requires high humidity, so a kitchen window or bright bathroom may be a good location.
The phalaenopsis, or moth orchid, brings a touch of tropical flair to your home in the cold winter months. It produces tall spikes of large blooms and is one of the easiest orchids to grow. It comes in a range of blossom colors, including white, yellow, pink and purple — many with contrasting spots or stripes. The phalaenopsis does best in bright light with no direct sun. Allow it to dry out between waterings and don’t let the roots sit in water. A good method for watering is to take the plant to the sink and run water through the planting medium. This is another plant that doesn’t like to sit in water.
Paperwhites are another holiday favorite. The fragrant snow-white blossoms bring a touch of spring to the home. They are simple to grow from a bulb, and you don’t even need soil. Simply fill a container two-thirds full with pebbles or marbles and settle in the bulb (pointy side up!) until about half of it is covered. Then fill the container with just enough water so it reaches the bottom of the bulb. The bulb will send down roots to access the water. Get creative with your container, using a jar, a cache pot or bowl. Five bulbs will fit well in a six-inch container. A tall, clear vase will allow you to watch the bulbs take root and will also help keep the plants upright as they grow. After planting, set your paperwhites in a warm, light location, replenishing the water as needed. When stems appear, turn the pot regularly to keep them upright (they will lean toward the light). Setting them in a cool location (40s to 50s) overnight helps stop the stems from getting too leggy.
Image by hsvrs