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Over the Garden Fence

Caring for favorite holiday plants

red poinsettia

What’s your favorite holiday plant? If you said the Poinsettia, you would be in good company. Since 1825 when the Poinsettia was introduced from Mexico, it has been the traditional holiday gift plant. With good reason, too. Poinsettias are not only striking in color and shape, but they can last for several weeks to several months with proper care.

Temperature and placement

Just like our other houseplants, holiday plants have their own specific needs if you want to them to survive and thrive. If you can visit retail greenhouses, you will quickly “feel” one of those needs, a cool temperature. I am not suggesting you lower the thermostat to 60 degrees, yet if you can place the Poinsettia in a cooler location, especially at night, this will extend the plant’s useful life as a holiday feature. They also enjoy bright, indirect light during the day.


There are a lot of leaves using a lot of water, so pay close attention. Be sure the soil never completely dries out, and be sure you water before the leaves wilt. To ensure your watering efforts pay off, that foil wrap should be removed so excess water can drain away. If the wrap is critical for the display, you should at least punch some holes in the bottom so the excess moisture can escape into a saucer below. Do not let that water sit either; discard it after a few minutes. You can see when the soil is drying out, as it will typically turn a lighter color and start to pull away from the edge of the pot. If the soil is very dry, any watering you do will run down the edges and quickly collect in the saucer. In order to really re-wet the soil, you will need to place the pot in the sink and run enough water into the pot until the soil swells and turns a dark color again. Be sure to let the pot sit there so the excess water drains away. More houseplants are lost to overwatering and waterlogged soils that being kept too dry.

Other favorite gift plants

There are a number of other flowering plants that can be gifted during the holidays that will brighten the home during the winter and remind us of spring by their bloom and fragrance. 

Two bulbs that are favorites are amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus. The larger amaryllis bulbs can have two flower stalks. Amaryllis bulbs also can last for years and rebloom for many years if you grow the bulbs outdoors in the summer to create the flower buds you will force the next winter. Paperwhite narcissus have been a favorite throughout winter because you can always have them in bloom by starting them over a period of weeks.

Christmas cactus is another houseplant that we usually see in bloom from Thanksgiving on into January. It naturally is a late fall bloomer after being outdoors for the summer. Greenhouses bring it into bloom for us for the holidays.

Final reminders

No matter the flowering holiday plant, they enjoy lots of bright indirect light during the day and cooler temperatures at night to get the blooms to last many weeks. And, keep them watered properly. Just remember “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” and think “not too wet, not too dry, but just right.”

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.