I love the holidays. Even when the short, dark days and bitter chill of winter threaten to bring out my inner Scrooge, dressing up my home with brilliant red poinsettias or a candy cane-striped amaryllis lifts my spirits. Plus, both of these plants make the perfect gift for someone who’s hard to buy for. While poinsettias and amaryllises are go-to's this time of year, there are a few more winter-blooming houseplants such as kalanchoe, cyclamen, and Christmas cactus that also can help make your yuletide celebrations even more magical. Here's how to use these easy-care beauties in your seasonal decor or for gifting.
Poinsettias are everywhere during the holidays, but judging from Instagram tags, amaryllises may actually be more popular (536,108 #amaryllis posts vs. 363,531 for #poinsettia as I write this). And no wonder! Amaryllises have spectacular blooms that can last for weeks with little care, so even brown thumbs can enjoy these big bulbs. They come in a few different colors such as white, red, coral, burgundy, pink, and bicolors. For example, ‘Apple Blossom’ ($14, The Home Depot) has lime green throats and white blooms brushed with watercolor pink. Red 'Stargazer’ flowers ($23, Breck's) have snowy-white stars on their petals.
If your plant comes in a plain pot, slip it into a decorative container, or snip the long-stemmed blooms and pop them into water with floral preservative. The cut flowers are stunning in tall, clear glass cylinders, but they can be a little top-heavy so be sure whatever vessel you use won’t tip over. With a little TLC, they can rebloom after a dormant period.
If ever a plant embodied the phrase, "Happy Holidays,” it's poinsettias. Look for them in Christmassy red, hot pink, cream, white, apricot, or with marbling, speckles, or streaks. Two of my faves: ‘Jingle Bells,’ a crimson beauty with white splashes, and ‘Peppermint Ruffles,’ in pale pink and cream with dark pink speckles. As if their natural splendor wasn't enough, they even come spray-painted in blue and other exotic hues, with or without glitter.
Potted poinsettias are showy enough to stand alone as a centerpiece or on your hearth, where they'll get bright, indirect light. You also can tuck cut blooms into water picks to decorate a garland, wreath, or tree. These tender perennials dislike cold drafts near windows and doors, but you can use them to flank an outside door if you’re in USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11.
With their plump, green leaves and vibrant flowers, kalanchoes are another holiday favorite. (If you're curious, #kalanchoe has been tagged on Instagram 308,239 times, so they don't lag too far behind poinsettias). Blooming for weeks, varieties with white, pink, or red flowers work nicely with seasonal colors. You can find them in bright orange and yellow, too.
Kalanchoes are succulents, so they like bright light, but not direct sun. Try one in your kitchen, bath, or home office for some winter cheer. Water when the soil feels dry and let the excess drain away to prevent roots from rotting. These low-maintenance perennials are tricky to coax into reblooming, but they still make wonderful evergreen houseplants even without their flowers.
Cyclamen may not be as familiar a holiday plant as the poinsettia or amaryllis, but it still can brighten up your festive decor just as much. Their heart-shape leaves and flowers in lilac, crimson, white, pink, and other colors look adorable on their own, or mingled with other houseplants. Add a ribbon and bow, and voila! A foil-wrapped cyclamen becomes a welcome gift for teachers, co-workers, and neighbors.
Most cyclamens sold at garden centers are tropicals, so don’t grow yours outside unless you’re in Zones 9-11. They’ll bloom into spring if kept in a cool place. These houseplants go dormant after blooming but will usually revive after a rest period.
Christmas cactus seems like an obvious holiday plant because it's right there in the name. It usually blooms around the holidays, too. These show-stopping succulents have exotic-looking flowers come in magenta, red, pink, coral, white and other colors. They also have very long lifespans (plants can live up to 100 years), so some lucky gardeners own plants their great-grandparents grew!
For a meaningful gift, especially if you have a plant that is something of a family heirloom, propagate a piece for someone special. Late spring is the best time to do this. Cut off a few segments, let them dry for a day or two, and plant them an inch deep in a damp mix of sand and potting soil. Water lightly until you see new growth. Then transplant them into regular potting soil. Christmas cactus needs cool, bright light, and infrequent waterings.
If you live in Zones 9-11, you can grow them outside on a porch or deck year-round. Indoors, use them as accent plants and enjoy them as easy-care houseplants after the long-lasting flowers are finished.
Everything has beauty, but not everyone can see.