Caring for Christmastime plants

December 09, 2004|by Lori Young

Holiday plants are often used to brighten up our homes for the season.

Below are some common holiday plants and information about their care, as well as cautions regarding their use.


Are Poinsettias poisonous?

There has been a long debate over this. I had a college professor who stated poinsettias were not poisonous and proceeded to eat a poinsettia bract - he is still alive.

Information from a study at Ohio State University on this debate states that Poinsettias are not poisonous to humans; however, I do not recommend you eat a poinsettia, because it is not intended for human consumption.


Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) like temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees. To prevent leaf drop, do not place them in drafty areas such as near a heat vent or a door.

They also like bright natural sunlight. Please check their moisture level daily, but only water when the potting soil is dry. Apply enough water to allow the plant to drain, but do not let your poinsettia stay in standing water. With proper care, your plant should last through the holiday season.


Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) is another plant that is sold around the holidays.

Cyclamens prefer a bright, indirect light such as an east window. They prefer cooler temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees in the day and 50 degrees at night. They also require high humidity.

The easiest way to accomplish this is to set the cyclamen in a tray of water with pebbles in it, but don't let the cyclamen sit directly in the water. Cyclamen plants like to be kept moist and will wilt quickly if dry.

When watering the Cyclamen, water at the soil level, but away from the tuber - if the tuber gets too wet, it will rot.

Cyclamens will go dormant for the summer months. If you keep the plant in a cool place until the fall, it will rebloom the next year.

This requires a little work, but can be worth the effort.

Christmas Cactus

My grandmother has the most beautiful Christmas Cactus.

Whenever I think of Christmas plants, I can picture this Christmas Cactus in her dining room.

The Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridesii) will keep its blooms longer in cooler temperatures, 60 to 65 degrees. Keep it away from drafts, especially heat vents and other sources of hot air.

Watering seems to be the biggest problem with the Christmas Cactus. Water the plant thoroughly when the top half of the potting soil is dry.

Christmas Cacti will adjust to low light conditions, but you get more blooms when they are given greater light intensity. When you grow one indoors, an east window is best.


Holly (Ilex aquifolium) is one of my favorite holiday plants.

When I moved in June, I was excited to see that my new home had two Holly bushes. I use Holly and other greens to decorate indoors for the holiday season.

When using cut branches of Holly indoors, they should be treated first to delay the drying out of the plant. Oregon State University Extension Service suggests using naphthalene acetic acid (NAA), following the directions on the label.

You can also use Holly like a cut flower by putting it in vases or in arrangements. Check the Holly on a daily basis. If it still dries out, throw it out and replace with more.

Dry Holly is a fire hazard. Another hazard with Holly is the berries.

Holly berries are poisonous and should not be eaten. Use caution when decorating with holly if you have small children in the house.


Because of the tradition of "kissing under the mistletoe," I am including Mistletoe in this article; however, Mistletoe is an unusual plant.

Mistletoe (Phoradendron favescens) is a parasitic plant.

It grows on the branches or trunk of a tree and uses its roots to penetrate the tree and take up nutrients. Mistletoe can also live as a plant in soil, but is most commonly found as a parasite.

Mistletoe is native to North America and grows from New Jersey to Florida.

About the only care you need for Mistletoe is to remove the berries when they get moldy, which will allow the greenery to last longer. Mistletoe berries are poisonous so, again, if decorating with children in the house, you may want to use artificial.

Since I started with the "kissing under the mistletoe," I'll end with proper etiquette for Mistletoe: When you kiss under the mistletoe, you are to remove one berry - when the berries are gone, so are the kisses!

Have a blessed holiday season.

Lori Young is an Extension educator, specializing in horticulture for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. She is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1604, ext. 14, or by e-mail at

The Herald-Mail Articles