The holiday season has arrived, and the plant sections of stores are full of poinsettias that get scooped up to find a moment of holiday glory on the mantle, as part of a festive centrepiece, or given as gifts.
But there are other plants, too, to consider for a pop of holiday colour or to give as gifts. With proper care and a few simple hacks, most will last throughout the year as indoor houseplants—and even to bloom again in time for next year’s festivities.
Sometimes called a crab cactus because its long stems resemble a crab’s legs, the Christmas cactus’ festive flowers are long lasting, in festive shades of red, pink, and even lilac. Preferring to be away from direct sunlight, and heat sources, the plant should be watered every 2 to 3 weeks and only when the top one third of the soil feels dry to the touch.
Getting a Christmas cactus to rebloom depends upon light and temperature. It needs 16 hours of dark and eight hours of light for eight days to form buds. It’s important that the cycle is not disturbed, so keeping the plant in a dark room away from a window helps. Not too cold or too hot—an optimal 15-17 C is ideal. Once buds begin to form, move the plant back into its original location. (A Christmas cactus can live for ten years or more as a thriving houseplant!)
During the Middle Ages, it was believed that smelling rosemary’s sweet scent on Christmas Eve would bring a new year of health and happiness.
Rosemary is now often found in garden centres and big box stores shaped as a tiny holiday tree that if placed in a bright, sunny location will last for several years as a thriving houseplant.
Water rosemary every 1 to 2 weeks or when the soil feels dry to the touch. Known as an upside down plant, rosemary will absorb moisture through the air. By keeping the plant on a drainage tray of water and pebbles or gently spritzing it with water once a week, moisture will be taken in through its leaves and the plant vibrant and healthy. After the holiday bows and ribbons are removed, rosemary can stay indoors on a sunny windowsill. It’s fresh sprigs snipped and used in cooking, or planted outside in an herb garden as a small evergreen shrub.
Holiday decor, savory herb, an addition to the outdoor garden, a history of good fortune, rosemary is a star of multi-tasking.
Norfolk island Pine
Norfolk island pine or araucaria heterophylla is not actually a pine tree at all. It’s a tropical houseplant related to the monkey puzzle tree. Its pine-like soft green branches are perfect for hanging small ornaments during the holidays.
A forgiving plant, it prefers a sunny location but will tolerate dim light on a temporary basis. It enjoys a drink of water every 1 to 2 weeks and will tell you when it’s thirsty. If the container is heavy when lifted it doesn’t need water; if it’s light and the branches are sagging, it does.
During the summer take it outside to a warm-but-shady spot on a patio, or front porch. But once temperatures drop at night make sure to bring it in, it doesn’t like being too cold. As a houseplant, the Norfolk Island Pine will sit happily throughout the year in a bright corner, waiting every holiday season to double as an environmentally friendly potted Christmas tree.
As a symbol of prosperity, good health, friendship, and well wishes an orchid makes a wonderful holiday gift. Available in sizes ranging from large to miniature, and a multitude of colours, an orchid’s exotic blooms will last through the season. The plant is allergy free, only needs water every seven days or so, is non-toxic to pets, and will re-bloom.
Once the flowers fade, cut the stalk down to 2.5 cm above the healthiest green node (small bump) on it. If the stalk is brown, cut it off at its base.
An orchid’s rest period can last from two to nine months. During this time, water sparingly and only when the soil feels dry, Keep the plant cool, around 16 C, and in a room with windows but no artificial lighting. It’s important to follow the natural cycle of light and darkness to inspire re-blooming. Over time, protrusions of new growth should begin to appear from the intact node, or a new stalk emerge from the base of the plant followed by buds and blossoms. Once the buds are fully formed, move the plant back to the main living space.
This indoor houseplant is easily found in the florist sections of most stores. Unlike other plants which grow spring to fall, cyclamen grows fall to spring, blooming for an extended period starting in November through to January. This makes it the perfect holiday plant. Its green-and-white veined leaves are the bedrock to five petalled flowers that face upwards—reminiscent of butterflies in flight. Coming in colours red through white, indoor cyclamen prefers a cool location, indirect light and to be watered when the soil is dry to the touch. Often treated as a one-time bloomer and discarded after the flowers droop, it’s worth keeping—because with a little TLC, the florist’s cyclamen will re-bud.
As summer approaches the leaves will turn yellow and die back. Stop watering and place the now dormant plant in a cool, semi-dark location. Let it sit for about eight weeks. At the first signs of new growth, give the plant a thorough watering, place it back in its original spot and resume normal care. In a few weeks new leaves should start to grow along with flower buds.
Grown from a giant bulb that can be bought and planted in early fall, this time of year, amaryllis are often available in full bloom. Thick stalks hold up enormous flowers that resemble lilies. With blooms ranging from red to blush pink, an amaryllis provides elegant drama to the season’s festivities.
While blooming, keep the plant cool (between 15 to 17C) and away from direct sunlight. The protruding bulb and stalks need to stay dry and the soil around them watered just enough to be moistened—about once a week.
After the flowers fade, the bulb can be preserved to bloom again next year. Cut the stalk off, but not the leaves. They revitalize the bulb’s blooming cycle. Keep the flowerless plant in a sunny location, and continue watering. The more sun it gets now the bigger its new blooms will be. At the end of August stop watering, and let the leaves die back. Place the dormant bulb in a cool dark place for 8 weeks. Thanksgiving is a good time to move it back to a sunny warm spot and to start watering the soil around the bulb. In 6-8 weeks, new flower heads will appear, just in time for the holidays.
This plant has a great holiday name, albeit an identity crisis. It’s not a fern, but a variety of spike moss—which isn’t a moss at all, either. Its delicate green leaves and white creamy tips of new growth earn it the name frosty, and because it looks like and produces via spores like a fern, it gets called one.
It does best in very humid conditions, which are often hard to mimic inside during the winter when the air is dry. You can keep its container on top of a tray of pebbles filled with water or in a terrarium to give it the humidity it needs. This unique-looking plant doesn’t like being too cold or too hot—anywhere between 15 to 27 C and it’s comfortable. Err on the side of caution, and don’t give it a nitrogen fertilizer, as this will keep its tips green, not trademark white. With the right care, a frosty fern will thrive and live for years as a houseplant.
The colourful leaves of a poinsettia are technically known as bracts, and turn colour in response to the tiny flowers that form in their centre. Staying vibrant for weeks, red, pink, white, even blue and gold sparkle leafed poinsettia plants are everywhere during the holiday season.
While in bloom, poinsettias love semi-cool locations, lots of water, and bright indirect light. It’s important their containers drain well, and their roots aren’t overwatered. This will cause the plant distress. Once the flowers die and the leaves revert to green, a poinsettia makes a great year-round houseplant that may turn colour again for next year’s festivities.
Poinsettias bloom naturally in sub-tropical regions when the days are short and the nights long. For the plant to rebloom, these conditions need to be mimicked. At the beginning of October, put the plant in a cool place that has light for 10 hours a day and total darkness for 14 hours. Water sparingly, and in about four weeks the bracts will start to turn colour. In eight weeks, their transformation will be complete, and the poinsettia can reclaim its place of holiday prominence along with all the other houseplants that add natural elegance, colour and vibrancy to the season and into the New Year.