Christmas Plant Care

There are some plants inextricably linked to Christmas.

Oh sure, there's the tree. But there are also the little plants that guests keep showing up with - poinsettias, Christmas cactus, and the like.

The guest presents the little fella (cyclamen, azalea, whatever) at the door - and he really does look quite festive in his white wicker basket and a bright red bow. But a week later, he's all slumped over looking like the Ghost of Christmas Past. 

The problem is that most of these plants do not really want to be indoors at all. They want to be outside - preferably in some tropical clime (don't we all?).

Under the right conditions, Christmas flowers and plants can survive a month inside - even with you. These Christmas plant care tips can help.

Christmas Plant Care Tips for the Usual Suspects

Amaryllis

The plant we call "amaryllis" is not really amaryllis, but a Hippeastrum hybrid. The real Amaryllis belladonna is in the lily family - you probably know it as "Naked Ladies." But that's another story.

Your faux amaryllis will require a warm place with bright light but not full sun. Keep soil evenly moist but not wet. The bloom should last six to eight weeks.

Azalea

Some azaleas are bred as greenhouse plants, but they're still a bit tricky to keep alive indoors. Keep it moist, cool (45 to 60 degrees at least at night - maybe the garage?), and away from heat ducts.

Christmas plant care tips here are pretty easy, even for brown thumbs: It needs bright light but no direct sun. Mist, remove dead flowers and cross your fingers.

Christmas Cactus

Yes, Virginia, there is a Christmas cactus - and it's a different critter from the oft-confused Easter cactus - though they look much alike.

The trick to telling them apart is that the Christmas cactus has more pointed leaves, and the Easter cactus leaves are more scalloped. The easiest way to tell is that the Christmas cactus usually blooms at Christmas, and the Easter cactus usually blooms at Easter. As my kids would say, "Duh!"

These are types of cactus called "forest cactus" because, in the wild, they grow on trees in tropical forests. Put them in a bright window and water when the top of the soil begins to dry out.

Christmas Pepper

Capsicum annum is descended from chili and cayenne peppers, so the fruit's too hot to eat and are purely ornamental. It needs some direct sunlight and do not allow it to dry out between waterings. Mist occasionally and keep the plant in a cool spot (away from furnace vents), and the fruits should last two or three months.

Cyclamen

Cyclamen, which come in pink, red, and white, are most comfortable in a north-facing window of a cool room (50 to 60 degrees F.)  Keep the soil moist, but do not wet the crown of the plant. Mist occasionally and pinch off spent flowers to keep them blooming for months.

Kalanchoe

Red kalanchoe plant isolated.

This member of the succulent family needs to be placed in bright but not direct sun. Keep it cool and out of drafts. Water thoroughly and then let it completely dry out before you water again; no misting is necessary.

Paperwhites

Narcissus tazetta. These are a type of daffodil that grow easily in a shallow container of water anchored by stones. For best results, place them in a cool spot in bright but not direct sunlight and enjoy.

Poinsettia 

Euphorbia pulcherrima now come in many colors - white, red, pink, variegated. Treat it right and the flowers (really bracts or colored leaves) should last two to six months. This plant will thrive in a warm (65 to 75 degree F) well-lighted spot away from drafty windows and doors. Water only when soil is dry. Mist leaves regularly.

Good luck with your gifts. With the proper care, they can be kept throughout the year to bloom next Christmas. But that's another story.


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