Ask Elaine: Holiday Plant Care

Dear Elaine,

As the winter holidays approach, I am thinking of plants to give my garden friends. I would like to know the care that the plants need to have them last as long as possible, and maybe even rebloom. Thank you and Happy Holidays!


Dear Kevin,

Thank you for your good wishes. Happy Holidays to you also!

It’s very kind of you to think of your garden friends at the end of the season. Most people put the trowel away until spring. Plants make great holiday decorations — beauty, color, general visual appeal and sometimes scent. Whether giving a plant gift or receiving one, I have some hints and suggestions on holiday plant care for now and in the months to come.

Poinsettia —

Nothing says Christmas like a poinsettia. Its bracts (modified leaves) can be red, pink, white, even yellow, solid colored, mottled, spotted or speckled. The plant likes average room temperatures in front of a window. Do not let it touch the cold glass or be exposed to drafts — the leaves will fall off. Water when the soil is dry, but do not saturate it. A lot of time and precision growing went into the production of this plant. Frankly, it is not worth the complex regimen needed to duplicate the display for next year (long nights in a closet, etc.). This year, keep the plant as long as possible, then discard. Next year, support the floral industry and buy a new poinsettia.

NOTE: Poinsettias are mildly toxic. Keep them away from cats and babies.

Christmas cactus —

This plant can live for decades as a houseplant. Christmas cactus is from the tropical rainforests of Brazil, not the desert southwest. Flower colors are red, pink, purple and white.  The plant likes average room temperatures and bright light, but not direct light. Keep the plant evenly moist. If the soil is allowed to dry out, the flower buds will drop off and the leaves will shrivel. A pebble tray will help to increase the humidity around the plant. Keep the plant looking its best by deadheading the spent blooms. To get your Christmas cactus to rebloom, September 21 is the beginning of the program whereby the plant should receive 14 hours of darkness for six weeks. A simpler method for flower bud formation is to keep the plant in temperatures about 55 to 60 degree temperatures for six weeks starting September 21.

Cyclamen —

Put the plant in a bright window, but not direct sun. Night temperatures in the 50s to 60s and evenly moist soil will keep the plant flowering for months. When you do water the plant, put the water in a saucer and let the plant absorb the water from the bottom up (like an African violet). This will it keep the stems from rotting. Any water left in the saucer after one day should be discarded. A pebble tray can raise the humidity around the plant. Cyclamen is a lovely foliage plant, even after it blooms. After several months, the leaves will turn yellow and the plant will go dormant. Stop watering. Remove dead leaves and place the pot in a cool, dark place (or outside in deep shade) for two to three months. Then bring the plant into bright light, water well and when you see new leaves emerge, water regularly. The plant will grow and bloom.

NOTE: Cyclamens are poisonous to cats, dogs and humans. Keep this one out of reach.

Amaryllis —

Who can resist that $5 box of amaryllis? It makes a great gift. If you have been the recipient of a bare bulb yourself, plant the bulb in a light, well-drained potting medium with the top 1/3 of the bulb exposed. Place in bright light (not direct sunlight). Water and allow to get nearly dry before the next watering. After flowering, remove the faded blooms. Apply a diluted fertilizer every three weeks. Cut off the foliage after it turns yellow and flops, and stop watering and fertilizing. The plant is entering dormancy. Then you should store the potted bulb in a cool, dry, dark place for two to three months. Return the pot to daylight and resume watering. Repot with fresh soil medium every three years.

NOTE: Amaryllis is toxic to cats and dogs and a stomach irritant to humans.

Paperwhite narcissus —

Paperwhites are also available as a boxed kit. This is another bulb that is forced indoors, like amaryllis. Don’t confuse this narcissus with hardy outdoor spring-flowering daffodils. Paperwhites are set in pebbles or soil with the narrow tips exposed. Water the bulbs and keep them moist throughout the forcing period. The bulbs like temperatures about 50 to 55 degrees and need darkness for two weeks, or whenever the shoots reach three inches in height. Now the pot can be moved to a sunny window in a room with 60 to 70 degrees. Flowering occurs three to six weeks later. The musky fragrance is a turn-off for some people. For sweeter-smelling flowers, look for ‘Chinese Sacred Lily,’ Grand Soleil d’Or,’ or ‘Wintersun.’ After paperwhites have been forced, the bulbs are generally discarded since they are not winter hardy and they enter a dormancy that is two or three years long. You will have lots of fun growing them again, both for the beauty and the scent.

NOTE: All parts of the paperwhites are toxic to cats, dogs and humans.

To all Laurelwood Arboretum members, supporters, friends and volunteers, I wish you a beautiful and loving Holiday season and a New Year of peace and happiness.

Warm regards,
Elaine Fogerty, Executive Director

Scroll to Top