Care for your holiday plants

Richard Bogren, Gill, Daniel J.

For Release On Or After 12/07/12

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

We use a variety of decorative plants to dress up our homes during the holidays. Poinsettias, holiday cactuses and living Christmas trees, in particular, play an important part in decking the halls. How well you care for them once you get them home has a lot to do with how long they will stay attractive.

After purchasing a holiday plant, be sure to protect it while bringing it home. Sudden exposure to low temperatures and wind will damage the plant. Also make sure your plant doesn’t get crushed or tipped over on the way home. Poinsettias are particularly fragile, so handle them with care. It’s best to have them sleeved before you take them out of the store.

Holiday plants are often sold wrapped in colorful foil or placed in a pot cover. When you get your plant home, punch holes in the foil below the drainage holes of the pot. This allows the soil to drain properly and prevents the roots from becoming waterlogged. Make sure the furniture or floor where you set your plant is protected by a plastic saucer. If the plant includes a decorative pot cover, lift the pot out of the cover, water the plant at the sink and let it drain before you place it back in its pot cover.

Light and water are two key points to consider in caring for your plants. The plants should, of course, be located for attractive display. But a spot where they will receive some natural light will give best results. If you are interested in continuing to grow one of these plants after the Christmas season, it is especially important to move it to a spot where it will receive ample light as soon as you are finished displaying it.

The water needs of your plants should be checked every day by feeling the soil with your finger. Water it thoroughly whenever the soil begins to feel somewhat dry. This may be easier if you take the plant to a sink and water it there. Never let a holiday plant wilt.

Allowing a plant to dry out, giving it low light and low humidity and placing it near drafts or sources of heat can all shorten its attractive life. With a little care and attention, you can make sure that your holiday plant will provide a beautiful display throughout the season.


The poinsettia is the most popular and decorative plant for the Christmas season. The brightly colored red, pink, salmon or creamy white "petals"@ are actually modified leaves called bracts. The true flowers are small and clustered in the center of the bracts. When selecting your poinsettia, make sure the true flowers haven’t all fallen off and your plants will remain attractive longer.

Poinsettias have long been considered poisonous, but extensive research has shown that they are not. Still, prevent children and pets from chewing on them because they could choke on pieces of the leaves.

Today’s poinsettias should hold their leaves and bracts well through the season with proper care. After the holidays, most people simply discard the plants, much as you would a bouquet of flowers – chopping them up and composting them. This is fine because the plant is unlikely to ever look as good as it did when you bought it.

Holiday cactus

Thanksgiving and Christmas cactuses have been hybridized with each other to the point that we now group today’s varieties together under the catchall name holiday cactus. They bloom from November through January.

It is common for them to drop flower buds when you get them home. These plants resent being moved at all while blooming, much less being packaged, shipped, unwrapped, displayed, purchased and taken home. But many blooms and buds will hold on, and their great beauty in shades of magenta, red, pink, orange, gold or white make their purchase worth it.

When they finish blooming, these plants should not be discarded. The holiday cactus will reward you with blooms every year for many years if grown correctly. After all the flowers have dropped off, allow the soil to become somewhat dry between watering and keep the plant in a well-lit window. An east or west window will provide plenty of light. They also will thrive on a porch or patio in a semi-shaded position during summer.

Living Christmas trees

Various conifers, such as Norfolk Island pines, stone pines and junipers, are sold decorated as living Christmas trees. Make sure you keep them watered while they are on display. After Christmas, remove the decorations and place the tree in good growing conditions. Most of these trees should be put in a sunny spot outside because they do not like being indoors, and the cold of winter will not bother them. The exception is the Norfolk Island pine, which is not hardy and will freeze. You can place it near in a sunny window indoors and move it outside during summer.

Rick Bogren

12/5/2012 1:43:59 AM
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