Did you receive a beautiful holiday plant this gift-giving season? Or did you purchase live holiday plants as decorations for your winter dinner party? Are you wondering how to keep your plant looking beautiful all year round? University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s horticulture department is here for you in the quest to care for and enjoy holiday plants year round. Read our fact sheet below to see how to care for common holiday plants such as amaryllis, azalea, begonia, Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus, Christmas cherry, chrysanthemum, cyclamen, gardenia, glozinia, kalanchoe, pepper, poinsettia and streptocarpus.
To receive a hard copy of this fact sheet or to ask any gardening or houseplant care questions, contact our University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteers at 775-336-0265 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keeping Holiday Gift Plants Happy
A Welcome Gift
Colorful flowering plants are always a welcome gift at holiday time. Bright red, white or pink poinsettias, rosy cyclamen, showy azaleas, sunny chrysanthemums, dramatic amaryllis and the Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus add a spectacular accent to holiday greenery.
Whether you are the giver or receiver of one of these beautiful plants, you should realize that they have been grown in a greenhouse under carefully controlled light, temperature, and humidity conditions. It’s the control of day length in the greenhouse that is the primary reason these plants are blooming so profusely just in time for the holidays.
A Longer Life
Seasonal blooming plants will last longer if they are placed in the right location. For most of these plants, this means a place that is:
- cool at night
- in bright light but out of direct sunlight
Temporary placing of plants in a less than ideal environment will not harm them, but remember to move the plants back to a more favorable location when they have served their purpose.
Holiday gift plants will bloom longer if properly selected. Choose a plant that is in several stages of bloom, from tight buds to full flower. If you choose a plant that has only very tight buds, the move home may be sufficient shock to cause all of the buds to “blast” or drop without opening.
When you get the plant home, remove the colored foil to allow the plant to drain freely. Put the pot in the sink and immerse it in water up to its rim. When air bubbles stop coming to the surface, the root ball has been thoroughly soaked. Let the water drain and then place the pot on a plastic saucer in a decorative basket. Keep all faded flowers pinched off to prolong bloom and check daily to see that the soil is moist.
Holiday Plants From A to S
Amaryllis can be persuaded to bloom year after year with a little attention. Cut off blooms as they fade; then three or four days later cut off stalk at base. Keep moist and fertilize regularly. In late spring, set the pot outside in the ground. In August, use a high phosphorus, low nitrogen fertilizer. By early fall the leaves will begin to wilt indicating the plant is going dormant. Cut back on the watering to the point where you’re watering only enough to keep the soil from shrinking in the pot. Bring pot inside before the first frost and put in a cool dark corner of the basement or closet. Check during the next 8-12 weeks for new shoots emerging.
When they appear, bring the plant into light, begin watering and you’re off to another blooming holiday season. Failure to bloom indicates that not enough growth was produced during the previous spring and summer. Amaryllis generally need to be repotted every three to four years. Repot in late fall or early winter, in rich, sandy mix with added bone meal or superphosphate. Firm soil and water well, then keep barely moist until new growth begins.
Evergreen azaleas need a cool location and a generous amount of water. Plant them, pot and all, in a protected location outdoors and bring inside before Labor Day. They unfortunately cannot survive the winter outdoors. Feed regularly with a balanced formula fertilizer. To keep the plant compact, prune new growth in the spring.
Winter-flowering begonias aren’t often thought of as a holiday plant but are cheery holiday decorations. Ample humidity, with good ventilation to prevent mildew, bright yet diffused light and cool night time temperatures are the keys to success with begonias. Do not over water. Only water when soil is dry to the touch or leaves begin to lose their shine.
The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) and its close relative, the Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata) are not desert cacti. They are jungle plants that perch on tree branches like orchids. They require rich organic soil, regular watering and feeding, and good air circulation. With the right care, they’ll give pleasure for years. They require 12-14 hours of uninterrupted dark each night for 10 weeks to set flower buds. You may have to tuck the plants into a cool closet at night for those ten weeks, because no light means NO light. Even 60 seconds in the middle of the night is enough to upset the plant’s bloom cycle. Water enough to keep the leaves from shriveling. At the end of the 10-week period, place in a brightly-lit window and resume regular watering and fertilizing.
The Christmas cherry or Jerusalem cherry has inedible fruit that superficially resemble cherries, yet it’s a member of the potato family. The “Christmas potato” probably wouldn’t sell well, so we’ll forgive the florist a little poetic license.
This plant with its deep green foliage and shiny orange-to-scarlet fruits lasts in a temperate, sunny location. To ensure good fruit set though, put where air movement is good, as it is a self-pollinator. Or gently shake the plant every day or so as you would with tomatoes to improve pollination.
The Christmas cherry can be grown as a perennial if pinched back regularly once fruit has dropped and new growth has begun. Otherwise, the plant gets leggy and unattractive. A better alternative is to divide the plant. After fruit has dropped, don’t water for 3-4 weeks. Then prune severely leaving two or three buds per stem. Mist daily with tepid water and new side shoots will develop. After these are established, divide the root clump with a sharp knife and repot for next Christmas.
Chrysanthemums in particular require a deep soaking when they arrive home. These plants are kept in cold storage, often for months, before being shipped to market, and although the soil may look wet, it’s actually more damp and cold than wet. Keep chrysanthemums in a cool bright location and water frequently. Pinch back faded flowers to prolong bloom.
September and October blooming chrysanthemums can be cut back after flowering and planted outside. Thanksgiving mums generally will not bloom again if planted outdoors due to our short growing season and should be discarded after bloom.
A semi-desert plant from Iran, the cyclamen must have sandy soil with excellent drainage. Remove florist’s foil to allow plants to drain freely. Water when the top of the soil is dry to the touch. Be careful not to water foliage or crown of the plant as rot will set in rapidly. Cyclamen need a bright cool location and cool (50-60 degrees F.) nights to survive. They need a summer rest to bloom again, but even with that, another bloom period is difficult to achieve.
“It is better to give than to receive” certainly holds true for gardenias. These exquisite plants are very temperamental and difficult to take care of outside of the greenhouse. If you receive a gardenia, surround it will all the creature comforts, temperature of 70 degrees during the day, night temperatures not to exceed 65 degrees, lots of fresh air without the slightest draft, evenly moist soil, bright light, an acid-based fertilizer with iron, and 50% humidity or more. Without these necessities your lovely plant will drop its leaves and refuse to open its flower buds.
Gloxinias are not gloxinias but Sinningias. Whatever the nurseryman calls this plant, the velvet-throated flower bells rising above the lush green leaves are almost too beautiful to be true.
This plant needs a cool location with diffused light and plenty of water. Don’t water foliage or crown of plant. Gloxinia flowers last three to four weeks. After that, you’ve got lots of large, fuzzy green leaves and a tuber. But that’s not the end of things by any means. The plant can be nursed back to bloom after giving it a prolonged rest period.
After flowers have withered, the leaves will begin to yellow and die back. When this happens, reduce the watering schedule slowly over several weeks until the soil is almost dried out. Trim all the growth off the top of the tuber and set it in a cool, dark place. After about four weeks the tuber will send up some fuzzy new leaves. Bring the plant into the light again and resume your normal watering schedule.
These cheerful plants are long lasting and adaptable. The red, yellow or orange flower heads will brighten up your home for many months. Keep moist, but don’t over water. Since they are succulents, humidity is not a problem.
After bloom, remove flower stalks. Place the plant in a sunny window and water regularly but let soil dry out between waterings. Start fertilizing in March. Kalanchoe is a short day plant, requiring 10 hours of bright light each day and 14 hours of complete dark each night through August or September. The night temperatures should be ten degrees cooler, too. By December, it should be ready to bloom again.
The handsome bushy pepper plant is a perfect holiday decoration. The ornamental ‘Ball Christmas’ and ‘Red Boy’ peppers have small erect fruit that change from green to white with purple splotches to bright red in time for the holidays. The fruit is edible but extremely hot. Grow in full sun and keep evenly moist. The plant will do best with cooler night temperatures. Prune new shoots in the spring to keep the plant bushy.
The poinsettia has become a symbol of Christmas over the years. Poinsettias will bloom until March if they are given bright light near a sunny window, moderate watering and warm day and night temperatures. Keep away from heating vents and drafty doors.
There are three categories of poinsettia growers. Those who throw away the plant at the end of the season may be the most sensible and the most economical in terms of time. Those who keep the plants, pinching back frequently to keep them lush and full, are the most practical. They end up with nice green plants, even if their poinsettias never flower again. Then there’s the challenge group… “I WILL get this poinsettia to flower again!” It’s possible but very time-consuming.
For the one more time group, follow these directions carefully. In late winter or early spring, cut stems to about 6 inches high so that three leaf nodes are left on each stem. Put plant in strong light but not direct sun. In late spring, repot if necessary and set plant in a warm, sunny spot. Pinch back regularly as new growth appears and fertilize with balanced formula fertilizer. In mid-September, but plant in a dark closet for at least 14 hours a night. Do not open the closet door during this period! The poinsettia needs full sun in the day and 12-14 hours of uninterrupted darkness for 40 continuous nights. Once the bracts (leaves) start to show color, you can discontinue this routine. Good luck.
This relative of the African violet is much easier to grow and will bloom almost continuously with proper care. Provide a minimum of six hours of bright light, but not direct sun. Keep faded flowers removed; fertilize when actively growing. Allow plant to dry slightly between waterings.