It’s the holiday season. Yes, I know. I also know that the whole family’s in town, that you’ve got a million and one things to do, but that doesn’t mean you should forget about that nice potted Christmas plant Aunt Emily brought you, or the one you gave yourself to “brighten up the house for the holidays”, or the one you were given as a gift.
Whether it’s a poinsettia, a cyclamen or an azalea, these plants need a minimum of maintenance if you want them to last. Here are a few quick tips to make sure they do.
There are three main factors to consider with flowering plants purchased or received at Christmas or during the holiday season: lighting, watering and temperature.
As far as lighting is concerned, all these plants need plenty of light, so they should be placed near a window. In fact, at this time of year, when the days are short and the skies often gray, placing them in the full sunshine of a south-facing window is a good idea.
Later, in mid-February, when the sun is stronger again, you can move them a little further away from the window, or put them in front of an east- or west-facing window.
But how do you reconcile the plants’ need for sunlight with your own need for a decorative element during the holiday season? After all, plants don’t always look their best directly in front of a window! Fortunately, plants can tolerate shade for a week or two, but after that…
So, take advantage of this fact during the festive season to give them pride of place in the living room, entrance hall or dining room, but as soon as the Christmas tree is out of the house, put the plants back where they can receive the light they need.
Temperature of Christmas plants
Christmas plants (poinsettia, cyclamen, azalea, Norfolk pine, etc.) can also tolerate temperature variations for some time, and fortunately so, because in fact they all like cool temperatures: no more than 21°C during the day and between 10 and 15°C at night. A position close to a window, with the foliage almost touching the glass, ensures such a temperature. Not so in the middle of the room!
Here, however, no deviation is tolerated. You may wake up all week with a raging headache and feel like doing nothing, but you’re going to have to water your plants at least once.
Because even a single day in completely dry soil (to the point where their foliage starts to wilt) is enough to considerably shorten the life of poinsettias… and can spell the end for a cyclamen or an azalea.
So water them abundantly, as soon as their soil is dry to the touch – at least once a week under normal conditions. And if it’s particularly hot in your house and the air is dry, which increases evaporation and therefore water requirements, you may need to water them more than once a week.
Other Considerations for Christmas Plants
But go ahead! Take care of your… human guests. Because the other details of growing these plants can at least wait a little while. You don’t have to run out and fertilize them.
If you’ve just bought them, don’t forget that they’ve usually been fertilized abundantly in the weeks leading up to the sale to stimulate maximum flowering, so won’t need fertilizing for several more weeks.
It’s only around February, when natural light increases and stimulates plants to grow faster, that it’s time to add a little flowering plant fertilizer to the watering water, according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Also, get into the habit of rotating pots a quarter turn every week, so that plants grow evenly and don’t lean towards the light source.
Finally, a little tidying up is sometimes necessary: tear off or cut back wilted leaves and flowers to keep them looking their best.
A little good care now and it’s usually possible to keep Christmas plants in good condition, even in full bloom, until April, or longer.
We wish you every success!
Larry Hodgson published thousands of articles and 65 books over the course of his career, in both French and English. His son, Mathieu, has made it his mission to make his father’s writings accessible to the public. This text was originally published in Le Soleil on December 26, 1998.