En español | Holiday plants provide a burst of winter color, but after a week or so, the bloom is often off the rose. Or, in this case, the poinsettia.
How can you make your holiday plants last well beyond New Year's?
First, read the directions.
"The biggest mistake that we see customers make is just not reading the care instructions and treating every plant as equal,” says Kelly Funk, president of J&P Park Acquisitions. The company owns the garden sites Jackson & Perkins, Park Seed and Wayside Gardens as well as Van Dyke's Restorers, which sells restoration hardware.
It could be a good year to work on your green thumb because a lot of holiday customers wanted long-lasting plants like Christmas cactus, Funk says. “That's a gorgeous blooming succulent, and when properly cared for, can live for decades.”
This also might be the year you received an unfamiliar plant. Teresa Thomas, owner of Crazy Plant Bae in New Orleans, which has both an online and a brick-and-mortar store, says a lot of her customers opted for tropical plants this year. This includes the wide-leaved, vivid green monstera and the bird of paradise, which is usually known for its spiked avianlike orange or yellow blooms but also has handsome foliage.
"The last two years have “been completely different than others,” Thomas says. “A lot of us couldn't go on vacations; we kind of want that [exotic] feeling in our house as much as we can.”
No matter what kind of plant you get, there's a second basic rule: Resist the urge to water, says Angela Floyd, manager of French Florist in Los Angeles, which makes 90 to 100 deliveries a day all around the L.A. area.
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"The main thing that kills plants is overwatering,” she says. Many plants do better with bottom watering: Make sure there's a hole in the bottom of the pot, then place it in a bowl of water for 10 to 15 minutes so it can soak up what it needs.
Depending on your garden zone, some holiday plants can be moved outside into the garden. Poinsettias, which are natives of Mexico, can thrive in places like California and New Orleans, for example.
But even if your plants are housebound, if you just follow some basics, you can keep them happy into the spring.
These have moved way beyond the traditional red, and smaller and more fully branched varieties like the princettia come in a range of bright pinks, says Christine McComas, a certified professional horticulturist and consultant with the University of Maryland Extension. In poinsettias, the flower is actually the tiny yellow bit in the center of the colorful bracts. The extension service provides detailed information on poinsettia care, including strategies for offering the right proportions of light and dark to get the plants to rebloom (a process that requires commitment). To get them to bloom as long as possible now, keep room temperatures at 60 to 75 degrees, and provide good drainage and bottom watering when the plant feels dry.
These showy bulbs shoot up a bright flower in a range of white, pinks and reds. They often come in a gift box with soil and the bulb. The Maryland extension service recommends planting the pointy side up with about a third of the bulb showing. Amaryllis need bright light. Keep the soil barely moist, allowing the top half-inch to dry out between waterings. Floppy leaves mean the plant needs more light. If this all seems too much to handle, Funk recommends waxed amaryllis bulbs, which arrive sealed with all the necessary nutrients and moisture — no planting or water required. As she says, “Pop it in the middle of your table and watch it grow. … It's just joyful.”
Depending on variety, schlumbergera, a tropical cactus that grows in the clefts of trees in Brazil, can bloom from Thanksgiving through the December holidays, says McComas. While blooming, they like bright light and well-drained soil and humidity, so mist them occasionally. The North Carolina Cooperative Extension recommends withholding water for six weeks after blooming, then watering just enough that the soil doesn't dry out. If you want your plant to rebloom, try cool temperatures — 60 to 65 degrees — and at least 13 hours of darkness a day starting in October.
These perennials come in a range of pinks and grow from a corm-like tuber that sits partly above the soil. They like bright light though not direct sunlight, McComas says, and prefer cool temperatures — 55 to 65 degrees. They also like humidity, so place your plant on a saucer of damp pebbles. Always water from below so the tuber doesn't rot, and remove dead flowers as they fade. McComas suggests applying some standard houseplant fertilizer every two weeks or so.
Bird of paradise
These dramatic showoffs are often featured as cut flowers, but because it's difficult to get them to bloom indoors, they're frequently sold as tall green foliage plants with wide shiny leaves that can be 11 inches across and 2 feet long, Thomas says. They like bright, direct light and humidity. “If you mist it a couple of times a week and keep it in a room where you could theoretically read a book with the light off ... you could keep a bird of paradise almost anywhere,” she says.
These are especially popular in places like Southern California, where they can eventually go out into the garden. They often come planted in boxes or trays and should be happy like that for a couple of months, Floyd says. “But at some point, they're going to start to grow a little bit larger than what that tray accommodates, so at that point, it makes sense to transplant them into separate little plants.” Plants that are natives of dry climates — poinsettias, for example — need very well-drained soil, she says. “You never want to water them until the soil is very dry to the touch.”
Centerpieces and other floral arrangements featuring cut flowers are also holiday mainstays and can bring a touch of spring inside throughout the winter. To keep the arrangements fresh, change the water frequently, Floyd says. “As soon as it's delivered, you make sure the water is all the way up to the brim,” she says. Just stick it in the sink, overflow the container with water, then let it sit on a towel until it's dry enough for the table. While some cut flowers come with packets of nutrients, really fresh arrangements shouldn't need them, Floyd says.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on January 5, 2021. It's been updated to reflect new information.
Susan Moeller is a contributing writer who covers lifestyle, health, finance and human-interest topics. A former newspaper reporter and editor, she also writes features and essays for the Boston Globe Magazine and her local NPR station, among other outlets.