Holiday Plants

Beyond The Poinsettia

by Tina Mast // October - November - December 2017

Though celebrating the Christmas season hardly seems possible without a few magnificent poinsettias festooned about the house and hearth (see their care instructions at the end of this article), there are other plants that can also help you spread joy during the holidays. These lovely bloomers add to your décor and enliven spaces during the season when we spend most of our time inside.


Three amaryllis grown together in a beautiful shallow bowl are absolutely unforgettable. No holiday flower is more glamorous and stunning. However, you need to plant them and get them going by early to mid-November if you want blooms in time for Christmas; but they can be the highlight of any winter month. If you buy amaryllis in its dormant state, as a bulb, prep it for planting by soaking the roots in water for a couple hours before planting. Choose a container about one inch larger than the bulb and which has a drainage hole. (You can always situate that pot inside a more decorative cachepot or bowl for added holiday decorating flair.) Fill the bottom of the pot with potting mix and set the bulb on top. However you situate it, the result should be that the soil line is just even with the bottom of the “neck” of the bulb, leaving about a third of it exposed, and the neck of the bulb should be about even with the rim of the pot. Water thoroughly and drain off excess water. 

Place your amaryllis in a cool, bright location, and water sparingly until the stem appears. Then, as leaves and bud appear, gradually water more often. Dump excess water in the saucer or cachepot within an hour or so of watering. Once the glorious blooms appear, cut them off as they fade in order to increase the life of the remaining flowers.

You may need to provide support to the flower stems if they start to flop over (a sign of not enough light) by staking them with plant stakes and twine or some pretty raffia. 

After blooming is finished, put the plant in your sunniest indoor location. Amaryllis are hardy to about 10°F, once established in the garden, which means most of the time they are hardy here. So, if you wish, you can plant them out in the garden in late spring where they can naturalize and become spring bloomers. Plant them 5”-6” deep in a well-drained spot and, in fall, mulch them well. Apply balanced fertilizer monthly fall through April.


These will charm almost anyone with their lovely patterned, heart-shaped leaves and flowers, like a flock of colorful butterflies fluttering over them. Cyclamen like a cool spot with plenty of indirect light. An east window away from a heat vent is a good place for these holiday blooms. Ideal temperatures are between 40°F and 50°F at night and less than 68°F during the day. Water cyclamen from the bottom by placing the pot in a deep saucer and pouring water into it. Allow the plant to soak up water for at least 10 minutes and then pour off the excess. Keep these festive plants moderately moist during growth and flowering, but do not allow their roots to sit in water. Fertilize them every three to four weeks with a half-strength solution of water-soluble fertilizer labeled for indoor plants.  Remove dead flowers with a sharp tug on the stems. If the stalk doesn’t budge, wait a day or two before trying again. Most people discard their cyclamen once the plants stop blooming and the leaves begin to turn yellow, a sign that the plant is preparing to go dormant. 


A classic holiday flower, the Christmas cactus boasts pretty succulents that will live forever just about and produce a brightly colored show of pink, lilac, red, coral, or white blooms in fall and/or winter. The Christmas cactus prefers a spot with bright but indirect light. Keep it moderately moist during growth and flowering, and fertilize every two to three weeks with fertilizer formulated for cacti. In the winter months, after they bloom, water thoroughly but only when the top half of the soil mix has become dry. Holiday cactus blooms best if somewhat potbound, which means they like having their roots crowded in the pot. Summer is a good time to re-pot your cactus, if it needs it, and you only need to use the next size up from the current container. Be sure to use a potting mix labeled for succulents and/or cacti. You can keep holiday cactus outside in a shady spot during the summer – in fact, this is ideal. To get them to bloom for the holidays, you need to trick Christmas cacti a bit since flowering is related to day length and nighttime temperatures. Starting in early October, and no later than early November, keep the plant in a location where night temperatures are 55°-60°F for six weeks. As long as temperatures remain in this range, buds will develop, regardless of day length. Or, if that isn’t practical, place the plant in a dark room or cover it with a box for 13 hours a day starting in October. Buds will develop in early winter, at which point you can move them to where you want them.

While it’s certainly understandable that you may want to stick with the traditional when it comes to decorating with holiday plants, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box a little this year – after all, ’tis the season for beauty and good cheer, and nothing helps brings these about like beautiful flowers.


– Avoid exposing poinsettias to extreme cold. Your vehicle should be warm when transporting.
– Place them in a room with sufficient natural light to read fine print. Poinsettias will droop and may develop yellow leaves if the light is too low.
– Water thoroughly when the soil surface is dry to the touch. Do not leave plants sitting in excess water.
– Avoid drafts or excess heat from fireplaces, appliances, or ventilation ducts.
– To prolong their color and longevity, room temperatures should not exceed a daytime temperature of 74°F and not below 60°F at night. 

Tina Mast

Communications director at Homewood Nursery in Raleigh.