I am fully aware that what I am about to say is an annoyingly sappy cliché, but here goes anyway. The Christmas season is my favorite time of year. Long before I discovered the joys of gardening, my first love was the gaudy spectacle that makes up our uniquely American version of the yuletide experience. I love the excessive lighting, the obscenely cheery carols, the plastic-fantastic decorations, and of course, I love the plants.
The unfortunate dilemma I find myself in with holiday plants is that when I get one, I stress out over long term care of the thing. As soon as I bring a new plant into my life, I find myself imagining the two of us growing old together, sipping on lemonade in our matching rocking chairs, reminiscing about past Christmases together.
This year I decided to change all that. This year I want to live in the now with my new buddies and enjoy the season. This year I don’t want to imagine a world past New Years, and I invite you all to do the same. To bring some stress-free joy into your homes with no promise of tomorrow, because what we all need this season is less stress. In that spirit, I want to list some of my favorites and what you need to do to keep them happy for as long as the carols keep filling the air. After that, you and your new friend can decide where the relationship is heading.
Poinsettias have to be the most classic live addition to your holiday décor since Christmas trees (and they don’t really count because you technically kill them before they enter your home). The nice thing about Poinsettias is that they are absolutely everywhere by the time Thanksgiving rolls around. You probably can pick one up at your local gas station or pet store. Probably not the pet store seeing that they are poisonous to cats and dogs, but you get my point.
The most important part of keeping a Poinsettia happy is keeping its soil moist. If it gets too dry the leaves start to wilt and it’s all downhill from there, so check with your finger every couple of days to stay on top of it.
Embarrassing confession time, when I first was given one during the holidays 20 years ago, I knew absolutely nothing about plants. I thought it was beautiful, and I lovingly placed it on a shelf where I could admire its splendor for the season. Then I slowly watched it shrivel and die. I was quite confused until one of my friends inquired why I wasn’t watering the poor thing. I was not aware of the fact that houseplants needed any care at all. At that point of my life, I was blissfully unaware of many things, including the existence of Google.
Other than the watering, all you need to worry about is giving it some nice light. If you are like me, and have very little window space, a grow light works wonders. I got some little halo lights off Amazon that allow me to grow houseplants all over my dark little house. If that sounds like too much commitment, just find the brightest spot that works. I’m sure it will be absolutely fine until the time you say goodbye to it.
This is definitely a plant that you do not need to worry about long term. Three years ago I decided to hold on to my Poinsettia and go through the steps to rebloom it for the following season. It was so involved! I did get it to rebloom, but it was decidedly underwhelming and I deemed it not worth keeping for a following year. It now brings me joy to know that I am supporting the Poinsettia growers by purchasing new plants yearly.
I came across this charming little guy last year and was so excited to bring it into my life. I then proceeded to do everything completely wrong and sadly watched it fade away before Santa even arrived. So, here are things not to do with your Cyclamen.
Do not immediately repot it when you first buy it. This is not necessary and it is in fact the wrong time in its yearly cycle to do it, so don’t. I used to repot everything that I brought home but it turned out that was generally a bad move. Most houseplants are of a tropical nature and actually like being a little snug in their containers. Just find something fun and festive to pop your growers pot into. I have a small place with many plants so I bought a tiny Cyclamen this year in a two inch growers pot that fit nicely into an old jadeite cup that I had sitting on a shelf. Very Christmassy!
Do not get the leaves wet. Not unlike gremlins, Cyclamen leaves will have very bad reactions to you splashing their foliage. The trick with these guys is to sit the pot in a little saucer of water and let it soak it up from the bottom. This can be done whenever the top of the soil becomes dry. Be careful not to overwater this one as its leaves will start to turn yellow. I learned this the hard way.
Do not have your Cyclamen get too warm. It turns out that these plants like the temperatures from the 50s to the mid 60s. I currently have mine in a place that is bright, but not directly in the sun and stays around 68 degrees. I am hoping that this will be fine, but even if it is not, I hope that it will be fine for a while at least. If you have some sort of coldish room in your house that has the proper temperature range for your Cyclamen, by all means put yours there. I’m going to take my chances.
My father came by and had a wonderfully sentimental reaction to its dark green foliage and delicate flowers that hung like ornaments off little stalks that jut out from the middle of the plant. He excitedly inquired what it was called and proceeded to tell me how it looked so familiar to him and brought back memories of being a kid. He grew up in Syria and used to spend the summers hiking and camping in the mountains along the border withTurkey, and that just so happens to be one of the places where Cyclamen grows wild. For me that is exactly what the holidays are about; memories of years gone by flooding our senses and reminding us what it was like to be young again. I will forever love Cyclamen for the gift of remembrance that it bestowed upon my dad.
Honestly, I am completely new to the world of Christmas cactuses. They are one of those plants that I never really noticed until recently. I think they are nice, although they don’t invoke any of the same nostalgic Christmassy vibes that Poinsettias do with me. I am hoping to change that by inviting them into my holiday traditions.
The Christmas cactus I purchased turned out to be a Thanksgiving cactus. I was a little put off by this, but the main difference seems to be that my plant has spiky stems, and the Christmas version has rounded stems. That, and Thanksgiving cactus blooms for a longer period, which includes Christmas. I am no longer put off by this.
These guys want to have their top inch or so of soil dry in-between waterings. Also, like the Cyclamen, they enjoy a bright place without direct sunlight beaming on them.
Perhaps my favorite new Christmas plant tradition is the Lily-like Amaryllis. I picked up one of these last year and was blown away by the giant blooms that sparkle in the light sitting atop thick stalks that tower up out of giant bulbs.
When I first saw these in one of my plant catalogs, I was discouraged by the high price that was being asked for the bulbs. There are many that go for between thirty and sixty dollars! They come in many wonderful varieties and look amazing, but I just wasn’t willing to spend that kind of money on a flower. I am not that person.
Luckily, while in my local Ace hardware store, I saw a box sitting in the back of a shelf that was labeled Amaryllis kit. I was surprised to see that it was only six dollars and assumed it was on clearance because it was already early December, and these bulbs get purchased a bit earlier than that to allow for six weeks or so that it requires to bloom. I opened the box and saw about a five-inch stalk already growing from the bulb and decided that I was going to give a try. I am so glad I did! What a gorgeous flower! It bloomed right in time for Christmas and kept blooming for a month afterward.
I went through the aftercare instructions, which involves moving the plant outside for the summer, but I mistakenly freaked out when I thought something went wrong when it probably hadn’t, and I tossed the bulb in late Summer. I am prone to freak outs.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that last year’s purchase wasn’t some kind of economic miracle; the Amaryllis kit at Ace was always six dollars! Looking prices up online I also saw that there are other stores that offer equally affordable options. You should definitely shop around. Unless of course you happen to be an Amaryllis connoisseur who covets a very specific style. Then by all means, go nuts. It is Christmas after all.
These kits are great because they come with growing medium and a pot in addition to the bulb. The instructions are straight forward and easy to follow. The pots are plastic growers pots, so if you have a comparable size glazed or terracotta pot laying around, you should definitely use it.
Amaryllis wants a nice bright spot and will need some water every three days or so. Make sure to check on the growing medium (It seems like coco coir that it comes with), and don’t let it get dry. I just add a little bit of water as to not rot the bulb.
No matter which plant (or all of them) that you decide to involve in your merrymaking this year, I do hope you allow them to bring you joy and not worry about anything that might go wrong in your care. All our dwellings have different environments, and I am always amazed to see how some plants thrive in mine while others never seem to settle in. The last thing you should do is feel like you have failed. I truly believe that this is a time of year to let beauty into your heart and eschew negative feelings as much as possible.
Jamiel Dado is passionate about plants and wants to spread his love of gardening to anyone who will listen