Ideas & Inspiration
How to Care for Holiday Houseplants
Evergreens, citrus and blooming bulbs make wonderful gifts for gardeners during the holidays, but when the carols fade and the decorations are stored away, keeping the plants alive will be a test of your green thumb.
Our best advice: most plants can be treated as houseplants until spring, then transitioned into the garden for a summer outdoors. The most popular Christmas plant, poinsettias, can be nursed through the winter indoors and then planted outside for a summer in the sun.
There are exceptions: Evergreens like rosemary make charming stand-ins for Christmas trees but present challenges as houseplants. Luckily, rosemary is cold hardy and will survive outside up to zone 7. Learn more about your hardiness zone.
Amaryllis bulbs can be forced into bloom again next Christmas after a summer in the garden followed by a dormant spell.
Here are our favorite Christmas plants and how to care for them after the holidays.
The promise of homegrown citrus like Meyer lemons, kumquats and oranges makes dwarf citrus trees a popular gift for gardeners. These trees can be successfully grown as houseplants, but they need adequate sunlight and humidity.
The minimum daily light requirement of eight to 12 hours can be difficult indoors in winter, even in the sunniest of climates and homes. Setting up grow lights will help your citrus tree to harvest. Learn more about grow lights for indoor plants. Keep humidity high with a humidifier, a pebble tray or regular misting with a spray bottle of water.
Citrus trees thrive in temps between 55 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Citrus trees tolerate brief exposure to extreme highs and lows, as long as there is adequate water and they are otherwise healthy plants. Learn more about growing fruit in your garden.
Piney rosemary shrubs shaped into Christmas trees are a go-to gift for cooks and gardeners. Out of all the holiday plants, rosemary is the best bet for years of enjoyment.
Evergreen rosemary can take temps down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. If your winters are mild (for rosemary, that’s up to zone 7 and sometimes 6), choose a sunny location, preferably by a driveway or walkway to enjoy its fragrant boughs. Or, pot it in a roomy container filled with a good quality, well-draining potting mix.
While the plant establishes roots, it’s a good idea to keep it out of cold winds. Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean and loves afternoon sun.
Try keeping rosemary as a houseplant in winter: To prevent root rot, fill the plant saucer with rocks. Touch the soil every day or so and only water when the soil is dry. After the last frost in the spring, repot the rosemary and place it outside to soak up the sun during the warm months. Harvest rosemary frequently and use in the kitchen and in bouquets. Learn how to make rosemary honey.
Despite their hardy looks, Norfolk Island pines are tropical plants native to the South Pacific. They are small-space container trees in North America, but in their native habitat, they reach heights up to 80 feet tall.
Be sure the container for your Norfolk pine has proper drainage. It’s also a good idea to place it in a saucer filled with rocks so that the roots stay dry. Let soil dry between waterings.
Norfolk pine prefer cool room temperatures of about 65 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and no lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night. They don’t like drafts. Place your Norfolk pine tree near a large sunny window.
In the spring, when nighttime temps are consistently above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, move the Norfolk Island pine outside to a shaded patio. As it acclimates to the outside, you can move it into full sun, but try to keep it protected from intense late afternoon sun.
Poinsettias are native to Mexico, and if you garden in a similar frost-free area, the bright blooms can be grown outside. In colder climates, nurse poinsettias inside through the winter then plant outside as soon as the temperatures warm.
Poinsettias are easy to care for once you know their needs, says Jennifer Webber, head grower at Rambo Nursery in Dallas, Georgia. Rambo Nursery is an exclusive supplier to The Home Depot.
Jennifer's advice for treating poinsettias as houseplants:
- Put poinsettias in a sunny spot in your home, preferably near a window.
- Water once a week when the soil is dry to the touch. Avoid over-watering; excessive amounts of water will cause root diseases resulting in leaf drop.
- The easiest watering method requires ice cubes and knowing the size of your plant’s pot. A 6-inch pot will need six ice cubes every three to five days. An 8-inch pot requires eight ice cubes, and so on. If your poinsettia gets a lot of sun, add ice cubes or water more frequently.
Colorful Christmas cactus are actually succulents. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy, while they're in bloom. If the stems start to look flabby, you're probably over-watering.
Christmas cacti like warm temperatures, bright light (but not direct sun), and well-drained soil. When the blooms are finished, keep the plants in a cool room, around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and reduce watering to a minimum. When new buds appear, resume watering and fertilizing, and move the plants back into a warm spot. If the buds drop, your cactus may have been exposed to a draft or sudden temperature change, or you may have let it get too dry.
Cyclamens come in pink, red and white, and some have attractive leaves with silver marbling. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch, but avoid splashing the crowns. Cyclamens need bright, indirect light and cool temperatures. Avoid putting them near drafts.
Provide high humidity by keeping them on a tray filled with pebbles and a little water; again, don't let the plants touch the water. After the flowers fade, the plant will go dormant. Stop watering then, and resume when new leaves appear in fall. Apply a low-nitrogen fertilizer every other week while your cyclamen is actively growing. Read more about growing cyclamens.
Paperwhite narcissus are a non-hardy, fragrant daffodil that will fill your home with fresh blooms and fragrance during the holidays. Pot paperwhites as soon as you receive them, or store them in a warm, dry place until you are ready to plant. They are best rooted at cooler temperatures, below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Once rooted, a somewhat warmer house temperature is preferred. But not too hot or too dry an environment, as it may hinder flowering. Also, the less light they receive, the taller they will grow.
Paperwhite narcissus are good for a single season, and you can compost spent blooms without guilt.
What could be easier than opening a box with a ready-to-plant bulb, adding water and waiting for flowers to appear? You can buy an amaryllis that's boxed and ready to bloom, or start your own from a bulb. Give the plants a sunny window, and keep them evenly moist once growth starts. The flowers will last longer if the plant is kept in a cool room.
Amaryllis will go dormant, so move the plant for the summer and try to force it to bloom again next fall. After flowers fade, cut the amaryllis stem an inch from the base of the bulb. Water as needed and apply houseplant fertilizer monthly until midsummer. At the end of summer, stop watering and let the bulbs rest for a couple of months before forcing again.
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