Plants for the Holiday Season

Bonnie Nowicki, Master Gardener

Hello Quail Creek neighbors. It’s time to shake off the almost year-long stresses and allow peace and joy to overcome us. Festive holiday plants are waiting to grace our tables, countertops, and patios. Support your local stores and purchase a cheerful plant or two. My December 2019 article on holiday plant know-how bears repeating.

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) is a popular holiday choice. It is a small genus of cacti with six to nine species originally found in the coastal mountains of southeast Brazil. As epiphytes, which means they grow on something else besides soil, they’re found in the crotches of trees or in rock outcroppings in shady habitats with high humidity. Their stems resemble leaf-like, spineless, flat pads. As cultivated houseplants, they flower best when slightly pot-bound. The delightful flower colors of red, pink, apricot, and fuchsia, appear from areoles at the joints and tips of stems and will bloom into February. No need to repot more than every two or three years. They prefer indirect light and less water; every ten days or so is best.

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are the traditional choice for the Christmas holiday season. This plant species is indigenous to Mexico. Its common English name is derived from Joel Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico. He introduced the plant to the U.S. in 1825.

Poinsettia’s colorful bracts (modified leaves) brighten up any room in your home. Brilliant red blooms have been joined by even flashier colors. In the plant world, these bracts are designed to attract insects to the tiny yellowish flowers in the plant’s center. Being part of the Euphorbia family, they exude a milky sap when branches are broken. This sap may cause an itchy rash. A common misconception is poinsettias are poisonous to pets. In truth, they are only mildly toxic if ingested, and many plants would have to be eaten. So, do not hesitate to enjoy a poinsettia this holiday season.

Purchase full (not leggy) plants whose bracts are firm and not drooping, with the little center flowers intact. When the top soil is dry, water and drain thoroughly. No fertilizer is necessary while in bloom. Avoiding cool or hot drafts and grouping plants is a good idea. They prefer bright light in a southwest or east facing window, with temperatures between 65 to 75 degrees.

Perhaps knowing these details about Christmas cactus and poinsettias plant care will encourage you to purchase several. Happy holidays to all!