Christmas cactus make great holiday plants and, if left in the same spot, they’ll flower every year at the holidays with little to no care.
Poinsettias are the all-time favorite holiday plant, other than the Christmas tree. Available in 2- to 18-inch pots, they can be found in a range of colors, bicolors and novelties, but are nearly impossible to rebloom and are considered disposable — despite some planting them in their outdoor gardens during the summer.
When found in the Flanders oak scrub woods in 2015, this Winterberry was never imagined as a potted holiday plant — until now.
Winterberry, or Gaultheria procumbens, is now being sold in 4- to 6-inch pots as holiday plants. If kept cold over the winter, it can be planted in the wooded shade garden in the spring.
This Lemon cypress, native to some Western states, has been carefully clipped over several months and sold in 4- to 6-inch pots for holiday decoration.
Kalanchoe, a flowering succulent with a range of sizes and colors, is difficult to rebloom and should be considered one of the disposable holiday plants.ANDREW MESSINGER
Cyclamens in 4- and 6-inch pots are easy to move around the house as long as they are kept cool and out of hot sunlight. Once the balsam on the left is decorated, the cyclamens will adorn the base of the tree and window sills.
If you haven’t bought some holiday plants to brighten up your house, time is running out and the choices are dwindling. I’ve got my cyclamens in full bloom and my cut fragrant balsam fir is within hours of being adorned.
Nonetheless, at this time of the year, if you want to brighten up the house for the holidays with live plants, there’s the realization that just about all the plants we use indoors for holiday decor are, sadly, disposable. Yes, you can extend their lives and, yes, you can keep them colorful for weeks — and some even months. But, in the end, all but two will end up getting trashed.
So what can you do to extend their lives and the joy they give us, and which are the two that can live for decades with little care?
Much to my surprise, there’s actually a new kid on the block marketed with the name “Winterberry” — even though, in fact, it’s Gaultheria procumbens. And although the ones in the stores may be forced to color up at the Christmas season, these plants are actually hardy and make for nice evergreen ground covers. While the red fruits are not known to be poisonous, it’s probably a good idea to keep this plant out of reach from children and pets.
This Winterberry will prefer being in a bright and cool spot in the house — like a cold windowsill — keeping the soil lightly moist. After the holidays, don’t just take it outdoors and plant it. Since it’s greenhouse grown in Canada, it should remain indoors in the coolest spot you can find. Then, in early spring, it can be planted outdoors where it makes a great woodland ground cover.
This plant may be a challenge, in terms of keeping it through the winter before planting it outdoors, but it is certainly a holiday plant of merit that many gardeners will enjoy.
Poinsettias are fabulous if you’re looking for plants that can be large and colorful, lasting through the holidays. Yes, you can find some in pots as small as 2 inches, but those 12 inches and larger can be just spectacular. Keep in mind: the color comes from the flower bracts, not the flowers. In the years leading up to the pandemic, the color choices had become quite wild, with some bracts splattered with glitter, while others were bi- and tri-colored.
This year, it looks like the trend has returned to the traditional reds, pinks, whites and even bi-colored, with the fancier types harder to find. The poinsettia tends to fall apart when used as a houseplant and while some of you will keep them growing through the winter and spring, before setting them outdoors for the summer, the plant still needs to be considered disposable — and getting one to color up for a second year is a horticultural challenge.
Keep the “points” growing on the cool side and away from fireplaces and hot spots. Don’t worry, they will not kill your pets and are not poisonous to humans, either. Keep the soil moist, but not wet, and don’t let the pot sit in standing water.
Kalanchoe, a succulent plant related to Jade, came in just one color when first used for the holidays: red. Today, they are also available in white and pink, with a few other variations. They can bloom for a long time and prefer being grown on the dry side and warm. Flowering is stimulated by day length, so getting them to flower at the holidays should be left to the professionals.
While this plant is easy to maintain, it is one of those that should be placed with caution, as all parts of this plant are poisonous to both cats and dogs.
I often see the Norfolk Island Pine sold as a holiday plant — and for those with small living spaces, they’re popular as pseudo-Christmas trees. Despite the word “pine” in its name, this tropical plant will not survive outdoors. It can grow up to 30 feet tall and, more often than not, buyers look to re-home it after a few years — especially since it does not take well to being “pruned.”
If it’s a tabletop Christmas tree that you’re seeking, try to find a small, potted Alberta Spruce. This hardy evergreen will tolerate being indoors for a few weeks, but eventually it will need to go outdoors where it wants to be cool to cold for the winter before being planted.
Lemon cypress, or Cupressus macrocarpa, is also sold at this time of the year as a holiday plant. It does have a light lemon scent, but this is another outdoor plant that really doesn’t want to be a Christmas plant or Christmas tree. It’s native to California and, while it can be hardy down to zone 7, one cold winter will do it in if you plant it outdoors.
While lemon cypress can be grown as a houseplant, consider it to be short lived. It needs good humidity and temperatures in the 50s to 70s, and refrain from giving it fertilizer, as it thrives in poor soils on the dryer side. It also resents lots of pruning, though some specimens are grown as bonsai.
I’ve written a great deal in earlier columns about Cyclamens — though these are the florist types, not the hardy types. The plant grows from a tuber and is available in pots up to 12 inches in diameter. The foliage is lower than the flowers and the plants are available in a few styles, with color ranging from white to red to pink, with a few variations.
These plants also like to be grown on the cool side in bright light, but not in direct sun, and will continue to flower until mid-spring when they go dormant and lose their ornamental appeal. Those up for the challenge can hold the tubers over and start them again for next year, but the plants are so inexpensive that they’re one of the holiday plants I consider to be a disposable — and gorgeous nevertheless.
You can also find potted lavender sheered to look like a Christmas tree. Don’t assume that you can plant these outside when it warms up, though. Some indoor varieties, such as French lavender, may not be winter hardy.
I’ve saved the Christmas cactus for last. This is the one holiday plant that can and will live for decades with so little care that it’s incredible. If you leave this plant in the same spot, it will flower at the same time, nearly to the day, every single year and the flowers keep coming for weeks. However, if you move it around, it gets confused and flowering can be early, delayed, or not happen at all.
Just remember, it’s a cactus — and while it will need very little water, it can’t go without. It prefers bright light, but will often burn in spots with long periods of direct sunlight. New strains have resulted in plants with red, pink, orange, white and purple flowers, which may vary in shape from variety to variety. The plant can be trimmed to make it more lush and compact, but only when this year’s flowering ends.
There are other species of the plant that flower earlier, like the Thanksgiving cacti, and later, such as the Easter cacti. With a bit of talent and experimentation, you can plant a group of these in a large pot — clay, please — and have the pot in bloom from November through March. Usually found in 3- to 6-inch pots, it’s not uncommon to find older Christmas cacti growing as family heirlooms in pots 18 inches and larger.
In fact, many of you have told me about Christmas cacti in your families for generations. The stories have been wonderful. Mine goes back to when it was the only plant my mother was able to grow — and it thrived on her neglect. It still grows in my dining room window … a half-century later.
Add some color to your holiday festivities with some holiday plants. Most require just a little care — and can be borderline ignored — until it flowers and screams, “Look at me!”
One fine body…