Christmas Gardening

Holiday Plant Hangover

Ill.:,,, pikpng &, montage:

It’s early afternoon and you’ve just barely crawled of bed. You have a throbbing headache, you’re dizzy, you feel like throwing up, your eyes are squinty, your hair’s a mess and you are thirsty, terribly thirsty. Leaning against the wall, you manage to work your way into the bathroom to painfully take a sip of water straight from the bathroom tap so you can swallow the two Aspirins required to help you unmash your brain. 

And where is that coffee? Come to speak of it, where is the coffee maker?

You continue your unsteady walk to the living room where you plan to crash onto the couch for the next few weeks or so, but something odd catches your eye. There is, to your amazement (since you have no recollection of what happened after 2 well-lubricated days of intense celebrating), a plant—a real one!—half unwrapped on the living room table. Yes, you have suddenly become the parent of a living Christmas plant.

Where the plant comes from, you don’t know. Probably a gift, you figure. And what is it? Some sort of azalea? You’re not at all sure. However, there is a real plant in among the mess of wrapping paper, colorful ribbons and empty booze bottles littering the table and the floor … and the plant needs you.

Like a Baby

Woman holding plants in basket

Obviously, a plant is going to be a little less demanding than a human infant when it comes to maintenance, but you still have to take care of it.

Give yourself the afternoon to recover a bit, but by early evening, before calling Uber Eats to have an edible meal delivered since your still shaky body can’t handle cooking, get down to business.

Indeed, a living plant is like a baby and needs care. It is,
after all, a living being like any other. Ill.:

Here is how to do it.

First, take it out of its wrapping. Start with the paper or cellulose sleeve you (or someone: things are a bit vague) half tore off to reveal the plant. Then even remove the aluminum foil or colored plastic pot cover. Or at the very least, punch a hole in the bottom, because it will prevent any excess water from draining away.

Christmas cactus in saucer
You’ll need a saucer to prevent overflows. Photo: Kara Riley, The Spruce

Now place the new plant in a saucer to catch any overflow when watering. The saucer should be at least an inch or so (2–3 cm) wider than the bottom of the pot. If you don’t have an actual plant saucer, that’s not a big deal: a plate, bowl or Tupperware container will do.

Now look for a reliable source of light. No, not under the Christmas tree, despite all its numerous sparkly lights that still irritate your sensitive eyes, because you don’t keep it illuminated for long enough. Pick a spot near a bright window instead. 

Place the little creature right in front of the light source, on the floor or on a piece of furniture: you choose.

Now the going gets tougher. Much as you have to check a baby’s diaper to see if it’s soiled, you will have to check your plant’s pot to see if it needs water. And unlike a baby, the plant will not warn you that it’s thirsty by crying. You’ll have to go and take a look … or even better yet, touch its soil.

Testing soil in pot with finger.
Push a finger into the potting mix to check the moisture in the potting soil. Photo:

Take your index finger and bravely push it into the potting mix at the base of the plant. Send it right down to the second joint. What are you feeling? The roughness of the soil, no doubt, but also an impression of wetness or dryness, as the case may be. Well, if your finger feels moisture, everything is fine for now. Repeat the same test the next day, and the day after, and the day after that. Because it won’t feel moist forever. If the soil is Sahara dry, on the other hand—and do note this point, as it’s really vital!—it’s time to water.

You’ll need a watering can or a substitute for the same: a measuring cup, an empty booze bottle, a glass or similar. Fill the recipient with lukewarm water and slowly pour the water over the potting mix. Continue until water begins to drip out into the saucer. That’s a sign that you’ve watered enough.

Check the condition of the soil daily (yes, I know, green thumbs manage to spread their verifications out to once every 5 or 6 days, but precisely, they’re green thumbs and you aren’t … yet!), then water as needed. Again, until excess water starts to drip from the pot.

If the temperature in your house doesn’t make you shiver, it’s probably fine for your plant too. 

Sure, your plant would probably like more humid air than you have presently, but it will probably tolerate the air as it is. Once you get a greener thumb, make it happy and put it on a humidity tray.

And, unlike a baby, you won’t have to feed it and burp it. True enough, it will appreciate some fertilizer (but no burping, ever!), but you can start that in the spring. If your plant is still alive, because…

Often Short-Lived

Dead houseplant.
Not all plants will live forever. Photo:

Yes, the sad fact is that most Christmas plants won’t be with you for very long. They’re often pretty ephemeral. They’ll beautify your home for 3 or 4 weeks, then slowly pass away. 

You can then compost them without feeling guilty. No one expects more from a beginning indoor gardener. But the more you try, the better you’ll get. After all, the first time you tried riding a bike, how many times did you fall? Plant care is like that: with each plant you care for, you get better and better.

On the other hand, if your plant is still alive in March, congratulations! You clearly have a green thumb! And once acquired, a green thumb will last a lifetime.

Christmas Plant Gallery

Now that your vision is less blurry, you might be able to recognize your plant from the following portraits of plants commonly offered as Christmas gifts.


Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

5 comments on “Holiday Plant Hangover

  1. Wow, I am so glad that I do not drink alcohol.
    Anyway, as an arborist, I find that those living Christmas trees are very bad news. People seem to know that they belong outside, but plant them in the worst possible situation, where they grow up into huge trees!

  2. Patricia Evans

    Lovely photos of common Christmas plants, but the Christmas cactus is actually a Thanksgiving cactus (note the pointy edges to the leaves).

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