Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to Care for Your Holiday Plants: Christmas Cactus, Amaryllis, & Poinsettia

The Christmas Cactus

The Christmas cactus is a very easy plant to take care of and its cuttings are usually always successful. I've had mine for several years now which was a cutting from a friend of mine that had hers for several years.

Light Requirements: This cactus likes bright light, but not direct sunlight. If it's in too bright an area the sun can burn the leaves. It doesn't like drafts, heat vents or other sources of hot air blowing on it. In the summer you can move it outside to a shady location. It will take some sun, but introduce it gradually to the sun because the leaves can actually get sunburned. It likes average house temperatures of 65+ degrees.

Watering: The Christmas Cactus is a tropical cactus not a desert cactus, and because of this it has more watering requirements then that of the desert cactus. I water mine when I water my regular houseplants when they are usually dry to the touch which in most cases is about once a week. If your house is dry in the fall/winter you can water it more often. When the plant has buds on it, if it gets too dry, the buds will drop and the leaves will start to shrivel up. Your container pot should have drainage holes in it as well.

Fertilizing: I use about 10 drops of a houseplant-type fertilizer (liquid Miracle-Gro 8-7-6) in a quart of water every time I water my houseplants in the spring, summer and early fall. After that I don't water them as often and usually let them rest.

Setting Buds and Flowering: A lot of articles on getting your Christmas cactus to bloom tells you to move this plant to a dark room in the evening to help it set its buds. This plant requires about 12 hours each night of darkness and cooler temperatures for setting the buds. If you have a cool room you may want to move it to that room. I have mine on a back, west-facing porch (that is slightly heated) and that works great. We do not use that room in the evening and I usually do not have any lights on out there. No need to move this plant in and out of a dark room each night as some articles instruct you to do. When setting buds it can tolerate the temperature as low as 50 degrees. This plant usually does better in the northern climates because it prefers the cooler temperatures.

Several years ago I read an article that really helped me with the care of this cactus in its blooming requirements. The article stated that to get your plant to bloom around the Christmas period STOP watering your plant in September. NO WATER AT ALL for the entire month of September. The plant will wither slightly. Then after that start watering it gradually. You don't want to soak it or over water it. Usually after six weeks it will start forming buds. Another important item in this article was DO NOT MOVE YOUR PLANT ONCE IT HAS BUDS ON IT. The buds are very fragile and will drop with any kind of move no matter how careful you are. I found this to be one of the major reasons for bud drop on these plants. Usually around Christmas when my plant was starting to flower I would want to bring this into another room to enjoy the buds and flowers. Big mistake! Leave it where it is and every one of all the buds will flower.

In early spring you can prune the branches back a few sections and this will help in branching out. You can start new plants with those cuttings or share with friends.


Amaryllis blooming the end of June
I received my amaryllis a few years ago from a friend of mine that I met in Florida (thank you Judy Lembree). It came from one of her plants and she planted it as a small bulb. It took about 3 years before it started flowering for me, but it was well worth the wait. I have since started new bulbs from it as well. These bulbs come in several different colors. If you have one that you recently started, once it sends up a stalk rotate the plant every few days so your stalk grows upright. As you can see from the picture that these flowers are very large and top heavy as well so you might have to stake the plant to keep it from toppling over. If you get one of these for the Christmas season and it blooms for you, here are some instructions on how to care for it when it finishes blooming.

When the plant finishes flowering you can start fertilizing it. I use the same liquid houseplant fertilizer (Miracle-Gro) on this plant as well. The plant likes bright light and moist soil. Remove the flower stalks when the flowers fade, but DO NOT CUT OFF THE LEAVES. The leaves will continue to nourish your plant for the next flowering season. When it warms up in the spring (after danger of frost has past) you can move your plant outdoors to a sunny or partially sunny area. You do not have to re-pot the bulb. These plants prefer to be pot-bound. If you want you can plant them directly in the ground (but if you live in the north you will have to dig them up in the fall) or you can plant the pot and all directly in the ground. I leave mine in the pot year round and then just bring them in in the fall. The important thing to note about this bulb is that when you plant it, you can leave the top half of the bulb above the soil level. They do not have to be completely buried in the soil.

In September when the leaves start turning yellow stop feeding and watering. This is usually when I bring mine inside. Sometimes we can get lots of rain in the fall or even an early frost. You can cut the leaves off at this time as well but ONLY IF THEY HAVE DIED BACK.  Allow the bulb to rest in its pot in a cool dark place. I usually put mine in the basement in the fall and bring them out in the spring to start growing again. That's why in the photo (above) of my amaryllis you will see mine blooming in June. I will bring them up from the basement and start watering them around the end of April or May, and then they will send up their stalks. If they send up leaves first they will not bloom, but they are still growing from the young bulb and producing energy for the plant to produce a larger bulb where it will flower when it is mature.


If you are purchasing a poinsettia and you live in the north be sure it is wrapped when you leave the store to protect it from cold temperatures. Even cold temperatures for a short time can damage the leaves and flower bracts. And be sure to unwrap it as soon as you get home as well. The flowers are not the red leaves you see, but are the little yellow flowers in the center of the plant. Place your plant in a sunny window or a bright lit room. Do not let any of the leaves of the plant touch a cold window. The poinsettia is a tropical plant and grows best in temperatures between 60-70. It prefers the cooler temperatures at night to extend the blooming time, and does not like either hot or cold drafts from fans, vents, or open windows or doors. Water only when the plant is dry to the touch. Water enough to soak the plant and discard any water that drains out of the bottom of the plant. Another mistake that people make when they purchase these plants is to leave them in the original exterior wrappings from the store or greenhouse. This is all right to leave on as long as the water from the plant doesn't collect in the bottom of the wrapper. Some of the store wrappers have plastic lining and does not allow your water to drain off the plant. Poinsettias sitting in water is very damaging to the roots.

I have tried to save these from year-to-year, but because they are so fussy I don't recommend it. You can most likely do it, but you might not be happy with the results. I tried it again this past year and my poinsettia survived, but the leaves were a lot smaller. Probably because I failed to fertilize it on a regular basis (or maybe because I failed to fertilize it at all).

Hope you enjoy your Holiday Plants!

Thanks for visiting!

Feel free to leave a comment . . .


  1. I love the snowy scape through the window. It looks so seasonal and warm from inside. You wrote a very important post because these seasonal plants are always problems for folks on care. Then they trash the plants and like you said, they can be saved to bloom again.

    1. Thank you Donna. When we see this information in the newspapers this time of year we are usually too busy to read them. So I thought it would be nice to include some pictures and write from my experience with the plants.