Holiday plant care

Gardens: Holiday plant care

Holiday plant care

Story: Christine Walsh

Once the gardening season wraps up, gardeners don’t necessarily stop gardening; we just move our gardening indoors. The holiday season, in particular, is a wonderful time to enjoy growing seasonal plants indoors. Here are a few tips for growing and maintaining a selection of the most popular holiday plants: Poinsettias, holiday cacti and amaryllis.


When choosing a poinsettia, make sure you choose a plant that has fully colored bracts (modified leaves) and tightly closed flower buds. The “true flowers” are in the center and should be tightly closed with no yellow pollen showing. The plant should have dark green foliage that goes completely down the stem of the plant

  • Make sure it is wrapped properly because exposure to low temperatures, even for a few minutes, can damage the bracts and leaves. Remember these are tropical plants!
  • Place the poinsettia in indirect light. Keep the plant from touching cold windows.
  • Keep poinsettias away from warm or cold drafts from radiators, air registers or open doors and windows.
  • Ideally, poinsettias require daytime temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. High temperatures will shorten the plant’s life. Move the plant to a cooler room at night, if possible.
  • Check the soil daily. Be sure to punch holes in the decorative foil so water can drain into a saucer. Water when the soil is dry. Allow water to drain into the saucer and discard excess water.

Holiday Cacti

When purchasing a new holiday cacti plant, look for uniform green growth, and a good amount of flower buds. While “cacti” usually suggest high temperatures and dry air, this is not what these holiday bloomers prefer. Unlike most cacti, these like moist soil and cooler temperatures.

  • Give your plant a cool, sunny window or other location with bright, indirect light.
  • Day temperatures of 70 degrees Fahrenheit and evening temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit are considered ideal.
  • Avoid overwatering during flowering. Do not fertilize when plants are flowering.

The secret of getting your holiday cactus to bloom is one of air temperature. All of these cacti require a cool night temperature of about 60 degrees Fahrenheit to bloom. Long nights are important as well for blooming. Bring it back to a cool, sunny window as soon as buds start to show.

If you don’t have a holiday cactus, consider getting one this holiday season. They also make great gifts that, with proper care, will provide beauty for years to come.


Most amaryllis bulbs you buy in the garden center during October and November are ready to flower and have already experienced the dormancy required to flower. Some are already in pots and will be closer to blooming.

To plant a new amaryllis, place the bulb in a pot about one or two inches wider than the bulb in soilless media found in the garden center. The lower half of the bulb and any roots that may have already formed should be below the soil line and water until it comes out the drainage holes

  • Place in sunny warm location and water sparingly.
  • Turn the plant daily as soon as the flowering stalk has emerged from the bulb to maintain a straight flower.
  • When in bloom, place in cooler location out of direct sun so that it will bloom for a longer period of time.

Once the flowers have faded, remove the flowering scape. Allow the foliage to grow and treat it like other houseplants, placing outside when temperatures are warm in the spring. Let the soil dry between waterings and fertilizer regularly.

Go out and buy your bulbs, soilless media and pots now for an easy to grow and brilliant holiday décor sure to light up any room.


Candice Hart is a State Master Gardener Specialist at the University of Illinois Extension.