Brighten the holidays with colorful plants

November 27, 2022

Garden centers, florists and grocery stores are filling their shelves with a variety of holiday plants, a sure sign the festive season is approaching.

This is the time of year to give, receive or fill your home with colorful poinsettias, Christmas cactus, cyclamen, and other holiday plants, and you can extend their beauty and longevity with proper care.

Start by selecting healthy plants that have been receiving proper care. They should be free of insects and disease, and have no yellow leaves, brown leaf edges and spots. Flowering plants should have just a few open flowers, some buds showing color, and the rest healthy, plump buds. You will enjoy watching the flower buds open, blooms expand and a longer flowering period.

Always protect your gift plants from the harsh outdoors. Professional florists and garden center staff should provide a care tag and wrap your plants in a plastic or paper sleeve for the ride home.

Carefully remove the wrap as soon as you get home. This is especially important when caring for poinsettias. The upturned leaves emit ethylene, a ripening hormone that can shorten the longevity of your poinsettia’s colorful display.

Rewrap your holiday plant anytime you move it outdoors, and never leave it sitting in a cold car while running errands. A chilled plant looks fine until it warms. By the next day, the plant turns grayish-green, wilts and may die. Not such a nice gift or addition to your holiday décor after all.

Once home, place it in a cool, brightly lit location. The cool temperatures and indirect light help the blooms last longer. Remove or fold down the foil wrap, if present, to allow sunlight to reach all the leaves. Avoid drafts of hot and cold air. These can dry or chill the plant, resulting in leaf and blossom drop.

Check the tag for watering instructions. Most holiday plants prefer moist but not wet soil. Use your finger as a moisture meter. Water thoroughly whenever the top few inches of soil are crumbly and just slightly moist, or according to the directions on the care tag.

Pour out any water that collects in the foil, basket, decorative pot or saucer. Or place pebbles in the bottom of these or the saucer to elevate the plant above sitting water. This reduces the risk of root rot and makes care much easier.

Lengthen the time between waterings and increase success by amending the potting mix with a moisture-retaining product like wool pellets ( This organic and sustainable product reduces watering by up to 25%. Just spread it over the soil surface and push it into the soil around the plant.

Keep your floral display looking its best by removing spent flowers from azaleas, Christmas cactus, cyclamen and kalanchoes. This keeps the plant looking fresh and often encourages more blooms.

Once the holidays have passed, keep enjoying these plants through the gray days of winter. Move them to a sunny window, fertilize with a dilute solution of complete or flowering plant fertilizer, and water as needed.

Add some artificial berries, cut flowers in water picks, or silk blooms to replace the faded flowers. Use colorful stakes or natural twigs for added beauty, and to support floppy leaves and stems.

Boost your spirits and those of family and friends this holiday season with a few colorful plants. Giving them as gifts and using them to decorate your home is guaranteed to brighten your holiday celebrations.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including “The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook” and “Small Space Gardening.” She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Her website is

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