Soon, many of us will be receiving gifts of holiday plants with no clue what to do with them. Sure, the seasonal blooms look great in their decorative wrappings, but too often, just one week later they’re already showing signs of distress. Why toss these beauties in the trash when there’s still so much floral potential? Here’s how to keep your holiday plants looking their best and blooming well past the holiday season.
THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO
The best thing you can do for your holiday plant is to remove its decorative wrapper. All plants need good drainage to maintain good health. Foil wrappers and containers without drainage holes prevent water from escaping, meaning your holiday plant will sit in water every time you water it. You might have noticed the signs – yellowing leaves and sagging flowers? Since waterlogged soils leave little space for oxygen, the roots start to rot and very soon after, the plant dies.
I love receiving gifts of this beautiful succulent. The tiny clusters of orange, yellow, red or pink flowers remain attractive for weeks and the deep green, glossy foliage provides a dramatic backdrop. It’s crucial, though, to remove the container when watering. Succulents need good drainage and will rot if they receive too much water.
No forced blooms here — kalanchoes naturally bloom indoors during winter and early spring. Place your gift in bright light so it can receive at least 2 hours of sun, and water it every 2 weeks when the top of the soil feels dry. Keep it away from drafty doors and windows, which will spell the death of this holiday plant.
My house is often filled with cyclamens at holiday time. I love the plant’s upswept, fluttery petals and deep green variegated leaves. Florist cyclamens have been bred over more than 150 years, and today there are many new colors, petal shapes, sizes and fragrances to choose from.
Cyclamens can be pretty temperamental, though. Since they prefer cooler temperatures (below 70°F is ideal), their leaves will yellow and their flowers will droop if they get too hot. The plants are also very sensitive to watering — both too little and too much water will cause much the same effect. To keep your holiday plant in shape, remove it from its wrapper or container and water thoroughly only when the soil surface feels dry to the touch. Take care not to let any water touch the sensitive leaves or flower stems. After the plant has drained thoroughly, return it to its container.
These gorgeous tropical flowering plants are known for their bright red, heart-shaped ‘flowers’ which are actually spathes, or a kind of leaf that grows from the base of a spike of flowers. (Anthurium flowers are the yellow spike in the middle.) What makes this holiday plant special is that with proper care, it can remain in almost continuous flower for weeks, with some blooms lasting two months or more.
Anthuriums grow best in medium to bright light (avoid direct sunlight, however.) Keep the soil consistently moist and for best results, use tepid water when watering. A consistently warm temperature is key to keeping this holiday plant looking its best, so avoid placing it near drafty doors or windows.
Of course there are thousands of varieties of orchids to choose from, but most orchid gifts come in the form of the easy-to-grow Phalaenopsis (also known as the Moth orchid), which can bloom for up to 3 months. The plant flourishes indoors under normal lighting conditions and prefers the same temperatures that humans do.
Place your orchid in indirect sunlight and water once a week, making sure the soil remains moist just under the soil surface. Be careful not to overwater or the flowers will wilt and fall off. Orchids need good air circulation around the roots to prevent root rot, so make sure your decorative container leaves plenty of room for the plant to breath. And always remove the plant from its container when watering, returning it only after it has drained completely.
Pink-blooming Christmas cactus
This beautiful flowering plant loves holidays. There are Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter varieties. Some bloom at Christmas and then again at Easter with proper care. Most times, people don’t know which kind they’re gifting, so your cactus may or may not rebloom after the initial holiday flush.
Christmas cacti thrive in bright, indirect light and cool temperatures, away from drafts and heat sources that can stunt growth and burn leaves. Christmas cactus varieties are tropical cacti and, unlike desert cacti, cannot tolerate dry soil. Keep the soil evenly moist for best results and water only when the top inch of the soil has dried out.
Purple and white gloxinias
This holiday plant with its large bell-shaped blooms and gigantic fuzzy leaves is a show-stopper. Unfortunately, many people toss these holiday plants the moment they’ve stopped blooming. With proper care, however, gloxinias can become great houseplants, while continuing to bloom all winter.
Like orchids and cyclamens, gloxinias will start to wilt if they don’t like their environment. Unlike cyclamens, however, gloxinias prefer warmer temperatures and they thrive in partial sunlight. Ensure your gift has evenly moist soil and is placed in an area with high humidity (supplement humidity with an humidifier or tray with pebbles and water.) It’s important to keep the water off of the foliage when watering to avoid brown spot.
Gloxinias require a period of rest in order to bloom again. Once the flowers fade, your gift stands a chance of reblooming if you reduce watering by half and resume regular watering only when new growth begins to appear.
Amaryllis just beginning to bloom
Who doesn’t love amaryllis with their gigantic trumpet-shaped flowers and ultra long stalks? Deep red is most common, but they also come in pink, salmon and white. Amaryllis naturally flower in winter, making them the perfect holiday plant. I’ve been gifted amaryllis in several forms’ as a bulb, pre-planted in a beautiful container and as a full-grown plant, nearly in bloom.
If you’ve received a gift of a bulb, place your amaryllis in a warm, sunny spot and water it thoroughly, making sure to drain the pot well after watering. After growth starts to appear, feed the bulb once a week with a bloom booster fertilizer. Once the flower buds start to develop, move the plant away from direct sunlight to prolong the life of the emerging blooms.
After the blooms have faded, remove the spent flowers so the plant doesn’t go to seed, but preserve the stalk. Wait until the stalk yellows before removing in order to furnish food for the bulb (and subsequent blooms.) Move the plant back to an area where it can receive plenty of bright sunlight. Click here for detailed information from the University of Minnesota on how to coach it to rebloom indoors the following winter.
Poinsettias in the nursery
Like anthuriums, poinsettias’ flowers are actually bracts. The flower is the tiny cluster of yellow orbs in the center. While many people choose to toss this holiday plant after the festivities, I like to hang on to mine for a little bit longer.
Poinsettias fare better with lots of good air circulation. Remember to remove the foil wrapper (to prevent drowning your plant when you water it) and place the plastic pot on a saucer so water drains properly. Like all other holiday plants, poinsettias prefer a regular watering schedule, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings. Give your poinsettia plenty of sunlight to keep its colors looking bright and avoid fertilizer, which will hasten the decline of the colored bracts.
For more information on some of the new exciting poinsettia hybrids that offer more than the traditional red or pink, click here for photos from the U.S. Botanic Garden’s holiday display.