Care of Flowering Holiday Plants
By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
If you purchased or received a poinsettia, cyclamen, or other flowering potted
plant for the holidays, there's no need to throw it out after bloom. With proper
care and feeding, these potted plants will continue to flower for many weeks,
and may even bloom again next year.
The most popular flowering potted plant and one most buy, or receive as a gift,
is the poinsettia. They need good drainage, so if the pot is wrapped in foil,
remove the foil or make a hole in the bottom so water can drain out. Put a saucer
underneath to protect furniture, but make sure water does remain in the saucer.
Then water only when the soil surface is dry. If in doubt, don’t water. Too much
water leads to drooping and falling leaves, and root rots.
A common complaint about poinsettias is that they lose their leaves too quickly.
This is a sign of poor growing conditions. Poinsettias need at least a half day of
sun or bright light for at least 8 hours, a draft-free location, and night
temperatures of 65 degrees (F) or above. Given the proper care, you’ll probably
get tired of the poinsettias before they begin to lose their color, often as late as
If you want to try and get poinsettias to bloom next year, grow them through the
season as you would other houseplants. Then from early October, for at least 10
weeks, you’ll need to move the plant into darkness every night, and bring it out
into daylight every day. Plants need 12 hours or less of daylight for this period,
every day, to rebloom.
The Christmas cactus responds well to the shorter days of fall, and cool
temperatures. It usually will bloom year after year if kept at 50 degrees for
several weeks each fall. Starting about mid-September, gradually reduce
watering until buds set. Then keep soil constantly moist (but not waterlogged).
The amaryllis, with its stalk of colorful blooms, is another favorite holiday plant.
After the flowers fade, cut the flower stalk to about two inches above the bulb.
Place in a lighted area, water, and fertilize as with other houseplants. Next
summer, place it outdoors, and continue to water and feed as needed. When the
tops die down, bring it indoors again. For four weeks, keep at 70 degrees and
water sparingly. At the end of that time, increase water to encourage new stalks
The popular kalanchoe (said as cal-AN-cho), found in many bright colors
through late fall and winter, is a “succulent” plant or one with thick leaves, and
that prefers dry soil. In addition to not overwatering, this plant grows best in
high light. Keep cool (55 to 65 degrees) at night and warmer (65 to 75 degrees)
during day. Fertilize as with other houseplants while it is blooming and
growing. If you want to try and rebloom these next year, you’ll need to give a
similar fall light schedule as with poinsettias.
Azaleas are found through the holidays and winter in stores. They will bloom for
the longest period if kept cool (68 degrees or less), the soil stays moist (but don't
overwater), and with bright light. Feed monthly, using a fertilizer especially
formulated for acid-loving plants, or at least houseplant fertilizer, according to
label directions. The ones you find in stores are “florist’s azaleas” and are not
hardy planted outdoors in northern climates.
If you plan to keep an azalea, snip off flowers when they fade and pinch back the
tips of the new shoots to promote compact, bushy growth. You can put plants
outside in their pots during summer. Before the first fall frost, move the plant
indoors to a cool, sunny room, preferably with 45 to 50 degree nights until buds
begin to swell. Then move it into a warmer (60 degree minimum nights) location
to force flowering.
You can prolong the bloom of your cyclamen by keeping it cool (68 degrees or
below is best) and evenly moist. Too high temperatures, too little or too much
water, or too low light may cause leaves to yellow and drop. With proper
conditions, and if plants begin with lots of buds, you can have flowers for many
weeks. Feed regularly with houseplant food at about half strength.
Most discard cyclamen after bloom. If you want to keep them for possible future
blooms, stop watering when leaves turn yellow and wither. Keep dry, in cool,
and out of direct sun. When you see the first signs of growth in fall, or at least by
October, water well. Water again and treat as above when shoots and leaves
Other potted flowering plants
There are other potted flowering plants you may find in stores, including mums,
gerbera daisies, or ornamental peppers. As with other such potted plants,
generally cool temperatures (60 to 70 degrees) and avoiding too much water will
result in the longest bloom period. You’ll also get the longest bloom if you buy
plants with lots of buds rather than all flowers already fully open.