Winter holiday plants such as poinsettia, holiday cacti, and amaryllis make wonderful additions to indoor spaces. Choosing healthy plants, watering appropriately, and keeping them at the right temperature can help extend bloom time so that you get the most out of these plants.  

From festive indoor blooms to summer vegetables, Virginians can have year-round gardening success with the help of Virginia Cooperative Extension experts.

“When choosing poinsettias, you want to look for plants with the yellow true flower in the center of the bract,” said Ed Olsen, Henrico Virginia Cooperative Extension agent. “Many times, especially after they have been sitting out in big-box stores, the true flower will drop off which means those plants won’t last as long.”

Poinsettias should be kept at temperatures between 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Placing near temperature extremes, such as by a cold window or in front of a warm fireplace, will shorten their lifespan. Poinsettias should be kept well-watered – but not overwatered – and care should be taken to ensure water isn’t pooling inside any decorative wrapping on the outside of the pot.

Holiday cacti should be kept slightly cooler, from 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and soil should not be allowed to dry out during flowering. However, during non-blooming periods, the soil should dry between waterings. Keep holiday cacti out of direct sunlight but in bright, indoor light.

Popular winter-blooming holiday cacti include the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumgera truncate), which has sharp, claw-shaped projects along leaf edges, and the Christmas cactus (Schlumgera bridgesti) which has more rounded or scalloped leaf projections. Both species need at least 12 hours of darkness and cool temperatures to bloom.

When transporting holiday plants from the store to your home, be sure they are protected from cold as even short trips in cold temperatures can cause cold damage.

For gift-giving, Olsen suggests choosing a plant with longevity, such as a holiday cactus or an amaryllis bulb, which will last and produce flowers for multiple years.

Infographic with cartoon of a red-pink bloom surrounded by dark green leaves and small yellow dots in the center. Text reads "How to choose a poinsettia The colorful red parts that look like a flower are actually bracts, or modified leaves. Look for plants with the yellow true flower in the center of the bracts. Many times the true flower will drop off, which means those plants won’t last as long."

“It’s very difficult and time-consuming to get poinsettias you have saved to flower for a second year,” said Olsen. “They need complete darkness every evening from the beginning of October to the middle of November, which means you’re moving them around multiple times a day. It’s usually not worth it.”

Although not as popular as poinsettias or holiday cacti, amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus bulbs make great winter plants. Forcing, or getting a plant to bloom out of season, an amaryllis bulb takes four to six weeks, but paperwhites can be forced in as little as three weeks. For more information on forcing bulbs indoors, see the Virginia Cooperative Extension publication “Forcing Bulbs for Indoor Bloom.”

“The joy of amaryllis is that you can get up to three weeks out of a flower,” said Olsen. “You can give amaryllis as a holiday gift even if the recipient doesn’t have time for it to bloom for Christmas. It’s still a great gift because they can enjoy the bloom later in January.”

From holiday horticulture to commercial agriculture, Virginia Cooperative Extension experts help all Virginians implement the research of Virginia’s two land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, and provide real solutions for a more sustainable and collaborative commonwealth.

To learn more about gardening or join a community group of other passionate gardeners, contact your local Master Gardener unit by searching for your county on the Virginia Cooperative Extension website or Facebook.

- Written by Devon Johnson

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