Chalk it up to their festive colors, their long-lasting blooms or, simply, tradition—certain plants have become staples of the winter holiday season. Even amid the contemporary houseplant craze, plants like poinsettia and cyclamen are holding fast as decorations and gifts. Here are some tips to follow to best enjoy the plants you get—and to pass along with the plants you give.
Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
Bright light, normal room temperatures (60°–70°F) and regular watering suit poinsettia in bloom. These conditions will help prolong the beauty of the bracts (modified leaves). That's right, the showy, colorful "petals" are not truly the flowers of this plant. The real flowers are those tiny yellow points at the center of the bracts. Most people discard their poinsettia once the bracts fade. Those who wish to keep one for the long haul should check out the handy holiday-based guide devised by Dr. Leonard Perry at the University of Vermont.
This is usually given as a bulb to pot and grow. Plant the bulb so the top third sits above the soil. Place in bright light and water sparingly until flower bud appears, then increase watering. Do not move the plant after the bud appears or it may drop off. Decrease watering when the flower fades, but continue to feed every two weeks until midfall. Then let the soil dry out completely and let the bulb sit dormant for eight weeks. Read more details in "How to Pot and Care for an Amaryllis Bulb."
Florists’ cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum)
Place it in bright light but out of direct sunlight. A cool room (55°–65°F) suits cyclamen best. The plant grows from tubers and must be watered carefully to avoid rot. Stand the pot in a dish of water until the soil surface is damp, then let it drain. Remove spent flowers and yellowed leaves by pulling or snipping at the base of their stalks. When flowering ends, let the soil dry out and keep the pot in a cool place until growth resumes from the tubers. Read more in "Growing Potted Cyclamen as a Houseplant."
Flaming katy (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana)
With its succulent leaves, this fall- and winter-blooming plant stands up well in hot, dry rooms. Place it in bright light and water sparingly. It is difficult to get flaming katy to rebloom, but a summer spent outdoors in light shade, followed by an autumn spell in a room devoid of artificial light may do the trick.
Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla)
This non-bloomer has joined the ranks of holiday houseplants in recent years because decorated with white lights and miniature ornaments, small ones make cute Christmas trees. They're also much easier to maintain as a good-looking indoor plant after the holidays pass. Place yours in a bright spot with some direct sun and cool winter temperatures. Keep the soil moist, but water it less in winter. This plant prefers humid air—mist with water at least once a week to prevent yellowing of the needles, or cluster it with other houseplants so together they can make a humid microclimate. Read more in "Norfolk Island Pine for Christmas and Beyond."
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera xbuckleyi)
These frilly-flowered old-time favorites are easy to care for as long as you remember that they aren't desert cacti, but rather native to the tropical rain forest, where they grow perched on the limbs of trees. In other words, water them regularly and provide bright but filtered light. Read more details in the post "Christmas Cactus Care and How to Make It Bloom."