Holiday Plants — Before & After Care

December 19, 2011 | By | Comments (7)

Well, it’s that favorite time of year again, when we abandon all notions of rest and relaxation and scurry maniacally through the malls, trying to make sure any present we give someone is worth at least as much as the one they give us. No doubt, some of these gifts are holiday plants that someone will give you. Here’s how to keep them alive through the holidays and possibly after too.


Before I get into care issues, let Grumpy just quash one stupid myth about poinsettias that keeps some people from enjoying them. They do not spontaneously combust. Never happens. They are also not poisonous. If you want to poison yourself, eat an azalea. But a poinsettia, while not tasty, is not toxic.

What to do now. Poinsettia breeders have greatly improved the plants over the decades, making them much more adaptable to lower light levels indoors. So instead of defoliating to the point of nekkidness a week after Christmas, they can actually look good indoors for a couple of months.

Give your poinsettia bright, indirect light (direct sunlight is not required) and temps around 65-70 degrees. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Good drainage is essential, lest the plant quickly transform into a lump of mush. Remove the any foil from around the pot or at least poke drainage holes in it. Never let a poinsettia sit in water that’s accumulated in a saucer. Empty the saucer.

What to do later. If you live in south Florida, extreme south Texas, or other places it doesn’t frost, you can plant your poinsettia outside and it will grow into a small tree that will bloom every year in winter. If you don’t, chuck the plant as soon as it starts looking peaked. Greenhouse poinsettias are the product of very specific growing techniques. In your home, you’ll never be able to get it to look as pretty again as when you bought it.

Christmas Cactus

Unlike poinsettia, this is a plant you can keep for years and years and have it bloom beautifully every time. Grumpy has had his three plants for 6-7 years now. Two magenta ones actually begin blooming around Thanksgiving, while my salmon-pink one starts a little later.

What to do now. Give Christmas cactus about the exact same care as poinsettias indoors. Keep the soil evenly moist while it is in bud or blooming, but never let the plant sit in a saucer of water.

What to do later. If you have a room with bright natural light, you can keep your plant growing year-round indoors. Or you can do what Grumpy does. After the last spring frost, I move my Christmas cactus onto my screened porch outside. The bright, indirect light is perfect, as hot, direct summer sun burns Christmas cactus. I water each plant thoroughly once a week, making sure each pot drains well. The soil should go slightly dry between waterings. I fertilize them once a month spring through summer with Miracle-Gro. As fall progresses, the shortening days spur the plants to form flower buds. I bring them inside when nightly lows start dropping into the upper 30’s.


First, let’s get the correct pronunciation question out of the way. Some people say, “Kuh-LANK-koe.” Some say, “Kuh-LANCH-oe.” And some say, “Kal-en-KO-ee.” Grumpy doesn’t care how you say it, just that you know what to do with it. Like Christmas cactus, this is a plant you can keep for years and get it to rebloom in winter with no problem.


What to do now. Kalanchoe likes the brightest light it can get indoors, including direct sun. It’s a succulent that doesn’t need much water in winter. Water it once so that water runs out of the pot (again, good drainage is mandatory), then don’t water again until it starts to wilt slightly. Flowering can last for months, extending into the spring.

What to do later. Unless you have a room that gets direct sun, I recommend taking your kalanchoe outdoors soon after your last spring frost. I keep mine on the deck, where it gets dappled sun all day. I water it only when it’s dry, being careful not to overwater. I fertilize it with Miracle-Gro once a month spring through summer. Older stems eventually become woody with sparse, light-green leaves. Clip them off at the base to spur new, healthy growth. Like poinsettia and Christmas cactus, kalanchoe sets flower buds as nights lengthen in fall. However, don’t expose it to artificial light at night or it won’t set buds. Bring it inside for the winter before the onset of freezing weather.

XmasplantsAmaryllis, Christmas cactus, and cyclamen


Given the phallic shape of this bulb’s flower stalk before the bud opens, it’s only natural that whoever you give this to might question your intentions. But then the flowers open and they’re absolutely gorgeous and people get their minds out of the gutter.

What to do now. If you’re lucky, you received an amaryllis bulb that’s produced two flower stalks, doubling your pleasure. A succession of opening blooms should keep the plant looking good for a couple of weeks. After the last bloom fades, cut off the stalk, but be careful where you do this, because the cut stalk will gush water.

What to do later. After you cut off the old stalks, thick, straplike leaves will start growing. These will produce food for the bulbs to make next year’s flowers. Place the pot in a bright window and keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Again, provide good drainage. After your last spring frost, you have a couple of options. If you live in the Lower, Coastal, or Tropical South (USDA Zones 8-10), you can plant your bulb in the garden. It will start blooming the next spring (not at Christmas).

In colder climes, take it outside to a sunny spot after the last frost. It can stay in the same pot for years. I water mine when then soil gets dry and fertilize monthly spring through summer with Miracle-Gro. In October, I quit watering altogether to get the plant to enter a dormant phase. The leaves slowly shrivel and yellow and I cut them off. I take the bulb and pot indoors to a cool, dry garage for a couple of months. Then I water it once and wait for new growth to pop out of the top of the bulb. When I see a new flower bud emerge, I move the plant into bright light upstairs, water again, and await the show.

Paperwhite Narcissus

Forcing the bulbs into holiday bloom indoors is one of the better goof-proof, feel-good holiday activities. Even my wife likes to do this. All you have to do is nestle the bulbs into a saucer or shallow container filled with an inch of gravel and then add water up to the bottoms of the bulbs.

What to do now. There isn’t much. However, you’ll find that if you give your paperwhites bright light and temps below 65 degrees, they won’t grow so tall that they come crashing down in the middle of the night. Your paperwhites will last longer and look better if you can keep them outdoors in the cool air for most of the day, as long as it doesn’t freeze.

What to do later. Well, if you live in the Lower, Coastal, and Tropical South (USDA Zones 8-10), you can plant them in the garden after the last frost. They’re not winter-hardy north of there. Elsewhere, chuck ’em. They’re cheap, so buy new ones next fall.

Grumpy’s Leaving!!!

Not, not permanently, so put that pistol down. He’s just taking some well-deserved time off for the holidays to visit New Orleans and then create a slew of international incidents cruising around the Caribbean. Feel free to keep posting gardening questions here, but understand that any posted after December 21 will have to wait until the New Year to be answered. I’m resting.

IMG_1811 copy
In the meantime, to all of my faithful and very intelligent followers, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Festivus!





  1. Steve Bender

    Grumpy is the South’s most knowledgable and humble gardening expert, beloved by millions the world over. He has starred in such classic films as “Grumpy of Arabia,” The Grumpfather,” “Dances With Grumpy,” “The Grumpinator,” “Grump of the Rings,” “Gone With the Grump,” and “Grumpy Goes to Washington.” In 2012, Congress awarded Grumpy the Medal of Freedom, which he unfortunately dropped into a storm drain and lost. He is a horticultural advisor to the “Dr. Phil Show” and encourages all plants to take control of their lives. He holds advanced degrees in Crayon Technology and Paprika from the University of Phoenix. He currently makes his home in Alabama, where he lives with his wife, Kate Middleton, and rambunctious daughters Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney.

    January 16, 2013 at 3:17 pm
  2. Tamar White

    Who in the world is Grumpy? Perhaps one of the 7? What credentials does the Grumpy Gardner possess?

    January 15, 2013 at 7:53 pm
  3. 6 Gardening Tasks for Hubby at Halftime – The Daily South | Your Hub for Southern Culture

    […] very much. Grumpy waters his peace lilies and Christmas cactus once a week, his moth orchids and kalanchoes once every two weeks, his clivia once a month, and his snake plants (mother-in-law’s tongue) […]

    November 4, 2012 at 6:01 am
  4. garden design surrey

    The Amaryllis, Christmas cactus, and cyclamen is really beautiful and information you shared is good to have..Thanks

    February 25, 2012 at 2:50 am
  5. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Sorry, Marsha, didn’t get by there this time around.

    January 3, 2012 at 12:05 pm
  6. marsha

    are you visiting Belize?

    December 30, 2011 at 10:15 am
  7. UrsulaV

    Thank you for spreading the word! I did a stint at a vet, and the number of times we had to answer “The dog ate the poinsettia! HE’S GOING TO DIE, ISN’T HE!?”…uf da.
    The seeds are a mild emetic, which means that if the dog eats it, the problem will self-correct shortly. I have no idea who decided to spread the word that these things were made of cyanide and antifreeze.

    December 22, 2011 at 10:11 am

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s