Now, how to care for your Christmas plants

January 02, 2007|by ANNETTE IPSAN

Santa brought you a gorgeous bushel-basket-sized poinsettia for Christmas. And a dainty cyclamen. And a handful of paperwhite bulbs.

Now what?

How do you care for holiday plants so they thrive in the New Year?

Here are a few tips to maximize their blooms and beauty.

Poinsettias are tropical plants, so they like warm and moist conditions. Place them in bright - but not direct - light where no drafts will chill them. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy.

If your plant is wrapped in foil, poke a hole in the bottom so water can drain properly (a good tip for all foiled plants). Expect blooms for several weeks.


Christmas cactuses also like bright, indirect light and are very easy to care for. Unlike other cactuses, they do like a bit more water, so keep the soil moist. Christmas cactuses make great houseplants with intricate blossoms in red, white, pink and salmon.

Amaryllis are holiday drama queens, sending up clusters of large lilylike blooms on thick stems. If you received an amaryllis in bud or bloom, put it in a sunny spot in a room that stays 60 degrees or warmer. Let the soil dry between watering.

If your gift was an amaryllis bulb, pot it in sterile soil in a container just larger than the bulb. Allow a third of the bulb - called the "nose" - to stick above the soil.

Water thoroughly and move it to a sunny spot when it sprouts. Amaryllis bloom about four weeks after they sprout and keep blooming for about a month.

Paperwhite Narcissus are spring bulbs that are easy to force indoors. They sport an abundance of small white daffodillike blooms.

You either love the heady fragrance or, well, you don't.

If you received paperwhite bulbs as a gift, choose a shallow pot for planting. Put an inch of sterile potting soil or gravel in the pot. (They grow in either soil or water.)

Tuck the bulbs in tight, pointed ends up. Add more soil or gravel until half of the bulbs are covered.

Water thoroughly and often to keep the paperwhite bulbs moist. Put them in a cool, well-lighted room until the shoots are an inch tall.

Then, move them to a warmer spot and enjoy their blooms for four to eight weeks. If their tall stems start to topple, support them with a few thin bamboo stakes or chopsticks, and tie them with decorative raffia.

Paperwhites bloom only once, so discard the bulbs after you've enjoyed their show.

Cyclamen bloom profusely and boast handsomely mottled foliage. Delicate and charming, they hold their red, white or pink blooms high above the leaves like handfuls of scarves fluttering in the breeze.

Unfortunately, lovely as they are, they are a bit fussy.They like temperatures between 50 and 65 degrees and very bright light, a climate that's difficult to find in most homes.

Water them as you would a violet, from the bottom with room temperature water. I love this plant, but often am frustrated by its temperament.

The Christmas cactus is the real star of the holiday plant parade for longevity.

I know many people who have kept them for years, sharing cuttings with friends and enjoying plants that grow to sizeable girth. My mother-in-law has one that is nearly 2 feet wide and 3 feet long that smothers itself in blooms every year.

However, most of these plants are fickle at best.

Yes, poinsettias, amaryllis and cyclamen can be kept year-round and forced to bloom again after varying periods of darkness and dormancy.

But honestly, I never bother. It's just too much bother to track X hours of darkness for Y weeks at Z temperatures. Plants are supposed to be fun!

So my holiday plants are just that - those that add rich color and beauty to the season.

However, if you love a challenge and want to try to keep these plants going, check out these Web sites: or

Or e-mail me at or call me at 301-791-1604 and I would be happy to send you some information, along with my well-wishes for a happy New Year for you and your plants.

Annette Ipsan is the Extension educator for horticulture and the Master Gardener program in Washington County for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. She can be reached weekdays at 301-791-1604, or by e-mail at

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