Care of holiday plants

Predictions of the world ending on December 21 this year has some people nervous about making commitments.  They point to portents and omens of the Mayan calendar ending and, despite experts debunking the prophecy, cling to the concept that the world is on the brink of Armageddon.  Given that Justin Bieber has started going shirtless, I’m inclined to agree.

But if you scoff at the latest in a long list of doomsday dates by picking up a festive seasonal plant, you need a refresher on caring for your symbol of holiday cheer.  Here’s a quick primer on how to keep it healthy and thriving in the post-apocalypse world.

When the tag says “place in bright indirect light,” it means closely in front of, but not touching, an east or west facing window or one foot away from a south facing window.  For direct light, place it closer to the south window.

For longest bloom, keep in a cool room, with nighttime temperatures of 55 to 60 degrees; during the day, set the thermostat between 65 and 68.  These cooler temps will keep blooms lasting longer.

Feed with a balanced fertilizer.

Most houseplant food is 20-20-20, but many winter bloomers need a half-strength solution until later in spring, when robust growth starts up again.  Check the tag for feeding instructions before dosing the plant with too much fertilizer.

Then follow these quick tips for different plants:

(Schlumbergera bridgesii), a succulent, can be told apart from its cousin, the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata), by its rounded “teeth” on the leaves (Thanksgiving cacti have pointed teeth).
How:  During bloom, keep in bright, indirect light in a cool room and let dry slightly between watering.  If the leaves wrinkle and flowers fall, the plant is too dry or too warm.
Feed:  Once bloom is finished, fertilize once per month from April through October.

(Araucaria heterophylla), the small evergreen with soft foliage.
How:  These little trees, native to the South Pacific, will not survive our Colorado weather so keep them indoors in bright light and out of direct afternoon sun.  Take care not to let it dry out in our low-humidity homes.  Water when the top inch of soil feels dry, discarding water that collects in the catch pan.
Feed:  From April through June, use half-strength fertilizer twice per month.  Feed monthly for the rest of the year.
Tip:  For healthy, bright foliage, mist with water twice per week for healthy, bright foliage.

(Capsicum spp.).
How:  Moist soil and full sun keeps the foliage lasting, but for glossy, plump fruit, place this plant in a room with cool temperatures.  This annual is finished when all the fruit drops off, so compost it when the display is over.
Feed:  None needed.
Tip:  If the oils from handling get into eyes or on skin, this pepper can be irritating.  Choose a visible but out of the way area for this plant to keep kids and pets safe from its sting.

(Kalanchoe blossfeldiana), the succulent with stems of small, brightly colored flowers held above the leaves.
How:  Place in full sun for the remainder of winter, but when our sun becomes intense in late spring, pull it out of direct sun to a bright location to prevent leaf burning.  Lightly damp to slightly dry soil is preferred by Kalanchoe; take care not to over-water or let it dry completely out.
Feed:  After bloom, fertilize once per month.

(Hippeastrum spp.).
How:  Choose a spot with bright, indirect light and keep the soil moist but not soggy.  Deadhead spent flowers soon after they fade, and continue to care for the bulb after blooming is finished – Amaryllis will rebloom year after year.
Feed:  After the shoot appears from the bulb, feed twice per month.

Colorado State University Extension provides unbiased, research based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information visit

By Carol O’Meara, Colorado State University Extension


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