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poinsettias with mums

Holiday Plant Care – Should you Keep Them or Toss Them?

It is that time of year when we see many holiday plants that may be brought into homes and may ultimately end up in our landscapes. Sometimes it is confusing to decide what to do with them so I hope to offer you tips that may make your decision easier — Should you keep them or toss them into the yard waste after the holiday season is over?

These are the top ten holiday plants that I most often see at this time of year: Amaryllis, Azalea, Christmas Cactus, Christmas Trees, Cyclamen, Holly, Kalanchoe, Mistletoe, Norfolk Island Pine, and Poinsettia.

There are some general care tips that you should use when you bring any of these holiday plants home. Set the plants in bright light, but not in direct sunlight.  Keep them as cool as possible. Keep them out of drafts. Make certain the soil is kept moist but not soggy. Most holiday plants can be cut back after a few weeks and grown for use outdoors in spring and summer.

Once plants begin to flower, make sure they get a lot of light to maintain their quality, and remove the flowers when they fade.

When you water, it is done best outside. Add enough so a portion of the water passes through the drain holes in the bottom of the container they are growing in except for the Christmas Tree. It is very easy to prevent a water-logged condition by discarding this extra drain water.

Light applications of soluble fertilizer can be used. Generally, one-quarter the labeled rate will be just about right. Don’t be disappointed if your plant doesn’t last too long after the holidays — they were produced under ideal conditions.

Amaryllis is native to Africa and grows from a bulb. The plant looks somewhat delicate, but it is actually quite hearty and will thrive indoors during the winter months. The blooms come in various colors, but at Christmas time, red and white are most popular.

Amaryllis are spectacular flowering bulbs that bear gigantic trumpet blooms. They come in a wide range and mix of holiday colors. If you select one before it is blooming, you’ll get to enjoy it longer.

Amaryllis need a warm, sunny location and plenty of water to develop growth and flowers. Right before they start blooming, move them to a location that receives indirect light. However, keep them well watered as they tend to use more when flowering.

There are several pests that may adversely affect the Amaryllis including aphids, mealybugs, mites, moles and squirrels. There are few insecticides for indoor plants so it would be best to take the plant outside when using an insecticide. Always read and follow the pesticide label for best results.

Unlike some plants that die after the holidays, amaryllis may be kept as a house plant and enjoyed again. Cut off the bloom spike once the flowers fade, but don’t cut the leaves. Apply water soluble fertilizer at ¼ strength, such as 20-20-20 or similar analysis every two weeks, for the next 6 months.

If you do not wish to keep the Amaryllis as a house plant, once it goes dormant after the holiday season and the leaves yellow, store the bulb, pot and all, in a cool, dark place. Don’t water until the following November. Every couple of years divide the bulbs in the fall and replant the largest ones, spacing them out several inches apart in the landscape.

For more information, select this link: about Amaryllis.

Azaleas are popular houseplants during the holiday season, often given as gifts. They come in a range of flower colors, including red and mauve, and with single or double (frilly) flowers. With proper care, azaleas will continue to thrive and flower.

There are several pests that may adversely affect the Azalea including Azalea caterpillars, Azalea lacebugs, leafminers, nematodes, root rots, scale, spider mites, stem borers and whitefly. There are few insecticides for indoor plants so it would be best to take the plant outside when using an insecticide. Always read and follow the pesticide label for best results.

Water carefully. The key to keeping Azalea happy is to get the watering right. They want compost that is permanently moist, but not to stand in water. When the compost starts to dry out, stand the pot in a bowl of water until the compost is thoroughly damp, then allow it to drain.

Azaleas are acid-loving plants so make sure you can provide an acidic soil it you intend to plant it in the landscape; otherwise, toss it once the flowers fade.

For more information, select this link: about Azaleas.

Christmas Cactus history is very interesting. The plant is a tropical one and is different from the cacti that grow in the desert. The original home of the Christmas Cactus is in the Latin American rain forests. They are widely available in Brazil.

The genus name of the Christmas Cactus is Schlumbergera and the species is bridesii. The name has originated from a 19th century Frenchman whom collected the cacti. The plant is not really a cactus but is called a cactus because it looks like a cactus and blooms somewhere near Christmas time.

Watering is the source of most problems with the Christmas Cactus. The plant is not quite drought tolerant. It is a succulent plant and can store a reasonable quantity of water in the leaves. Water thoroughly when the top half of the soil in the pot feels dry to the touch. Discard the excess water, then do not water again until the top half becomes dry again. The length of time between watering will vary with the air temperature, amount of light, rate of growth and relative humidity.

There are few pests that may adversely affect the Christmas Cactus including snail, slugs and fungal rots. Pesticides may not be necessary as snails and slugs can be easily hand-picked when they show up.

Re-blooming Christmas Cactus is relatively easy and it will normally rebloom at the same time each year. After holiday blooming, remove spent flowers and apply a balanced houseplant fertilizer such as 10-10-10. Apply monthly. Stop fertilizing in September.

Six weeks before the desired bloom time, you must block out any light to your plant for 14 hours per day. Once flower buds appear, return to normal care. VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Once flower buds form, do not move your Christmas Cactus to a new location.

For more information about the Christmas Cactus, visit the UF Gardening Solutions webpage.

Christmas trees have been around for a long time. Early Egyptians brought palms indoors as a symbol of eternal life. Ancient Jews used tree boughs as decorations for their religious feasts.

The Romans decorated their homes with tree boughs and greenery during their winter festival and trees with candles and trinkets attached were paraded around the streets. Around 600 AD, Pope Gregory encouraged the use of greenery and trees in Christian celebrations.

Martin Luther may have begun the Christmas tree tradition in Germany around 1500 AD. It is said that he brought a tree indoors and decorated it with candles to represent the majesty of his feelings about Christ’s birth.

German mercenaries brought the Christmas tree tradition to the United States. Because Puritan doctrine did not approve of a celebration at Christmas, the decorated tree took some time to become a customary tradition in America.

By the 1840s the use of Christmas trees became popular and in 1851 the first retail tree lot opened for business in New York City. Today, about 36 million Christmas trees are produced each year.

America’s official national Christmas Tree is not located at the White House, but rather in King’s Canyon National Park near Sanger, California. The tree, a giant sequoia known as the General Grant Tree, was designated the “Nation’s Christmas Tree” in 1925. (267 feet high, 40 feet across its base, and is estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,000 years old)

In 1956, the tree was declared a national shrine to honor the men and women of the U.S. military. As a memorial, park rangers place a wreath at the base of the tree during the Christmas ceremony, which has been held every year since 1925.

Unless you purchased a live Christmas tree grown in Florida, it is best to toss it out with your landscape waste to be recycled into mulch.

For more information about the Christmas tree, visit the UF Gardening Solutions webpage.

Cyclamen sets itself apart from the previously mentioned plants in that it enjoys humidity. Nevertheless, you should not allow the plant to sit directly in water and remember that it never needs misted. An easy way to expose the plant to the proper temperature and humidity levels is to place ice cubes directly on the soil or use a pebble tray, most commonly used for orchids. When watering, it helps to add a bloom booster fertilizer, mixed as directed by the package.

The plant also requires plenty of bright light, but should be kept out of direct sunlight. For the cyclamen, the air should be cool, between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. As the plant grows and produces new flowers, remove the old leaves and faded flowers.

In July when you repot the cyclamen tuber in fresh soil, bury only the bottom half of the tuber. Place the pot in a cool, well-lit area and keep the soil moist.

There are few pests that may adversely affect the Cyclamen including Cyclamen mite and thrips. There are few insecticides for indoor plants so it would be best to take the plant outside when using an insecticide. Always read and follow the pesticide label for best results.

Re-blooming Your Cyclamen is difficult. After blooming, gradually decrease watering. When the leaves die, stop watering and let the tuberous stem remain dry for six weeks before resuming watering. With normal watering, bright light and cool temperatures, new leaves will appear. Perhaps your cyclamen will even bloom again. It may take a few years of experimenting to get your cyclamen to bloom when you want it to. Perhaps this plant, with all of its difficulty, should be tossed at the end of the holiday season.

For more information about the Cyclamen, visit the UF Gardening Solutions webpage.

For centuries, holly has been synonymous with the holiday season. In ancient Rome, holly branches were given as a gesture of friendship during Saturnalia, the winter solstice festival. Druids would decorate their homes with holly during Britain’s gloomy winters, believing that the sun always shone on this sacred tree. Likewise, pagans would bring holly and other evergreens inside to ensure that Nature would return in the spring.

The most well-known holly is American holly, which features spiny, glossy leaves and bright red berries. Inkberry holly, named for its deep purple-black berries, and variegated holly, with striped leaves, are striking alternatives to the standard holiday holly. The most common holly species used are Ilex opaca from the eastern United States and Ilex aquifolium from Eurasia. Both species have spiny-margined, evergreen leaves, and usually exhibit red berries.

Holly is a plant frequently utilized to “deck our halls” during the holiday season. The boughs used to decorate typically are cuttings from any evergreen trees or shrubs in the genus Ilex. If you are decorating with holly that has red berries, then you are using “female” plants. Many holly species are dioecious, which means that “male” and “female” reproductive organs are separated on different individual plants. To make sure you have a female plant, purchase it when the red berries are on the tree.

Unfortunately, our native hollies are very susceptible to a fungal disease called “Witches Broom.” Pruning spreads the disease as does the wind. Planting them out in the landscape may not be a “best” solution for you after the holidays.

For more information about the Holly, visit the UF Gardening Solutions webpage.

Kalanchoe blossfeldiana is a subshrub that may develop woody stems with age. It is native to Madagascar, a large island in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa.

The genus name, Kalanchoe, was derived from the native name for a Chinese species. The species name, blossfeldiana, was given in honor of Robert Blossfeld, a German hybridizer who in 1932 introduced it in Potsdam from its native Madagascar.

Kalanchoe is a succulent that provides a durable flowering pot plant requiring very little maintenance in the home or office. They are a leading pot crop in Europe, especially Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland. Kalanchoes are not as popular in the United States and may be considered a minor though steady crop for the greenhouse industry. They may be marketed as a center piece, in dish gardens, as patio plants, or as novelty gifts.

Kalanchoe exist very well in homes during the winter. They should be kept in bright light or full sunshine. Since it is a succulent type plant, the soil must be allowed to dry a couple of days between thorough waterings.

When flowers fade in the Spring, the blossoms and their stems should be removed. A slight amount of pruning may be necessary to shape the plant. It will actively grow throughout the summer and fall. If you wish to have the plant flower again, for Christmas or Valentines Day, the Kalanchoe must have a six week period of short days (14 hours of darkness).

Re-blooming Kalanchoe: Six weeks before your desired bloom time, you must block out any light to your plant for 14 hours per day. Reduce water and fertilizer during the low light treatment. Once flower buds appear, return to normal care.

For more information, select this link: about Kalanchoe.

In Europe, the species of mistletoe most frequently used is in the genus Viscum (Viscum album), but in the New World, various species in a different genus in the same family, Phoradendron, are used.

The mistletoe berries are often eaten by birds that fly from tree to tree and the ingested seeds pass through the digestive tract and are expelled in fecal matter. The mistletoe seeds can then germinate in a new place and penetrate the host plant. It is believed that the common name “mistletoe” was derived from this method of seed dispersal.

The origin of the word “mistletoe” appears to come from the Anglo-Saxon (Old English) words “mistel” which means dung and “tan” for twig. Thus, mistletoe literally means “dung-on-a-twig.”

Throughout history and in many different cultures, mistletoes have been a source for many concepts, symbols, and rituals. Many cultures have revered, feared, or thought them to have magical properties. As a result, mistletoes have been interpreted as: symbols of fertility and romance; aphrodisiacs; bestowers of life; protectants against poisons, witches, or evil spirits; and even plants of peace under which opposing groups can make truces.

The act of kissing under a sprig of mistletoe may date way back to the Greek festival of Saturnalia where it was believed to confer fertility. But, no matter what symbolism you may interpret with mistletoes, they all exhibit a fascinating life history and are an interesting part of our natural, botanical world.

Is there any mistletoe etiquette? Correct etiquette says that a person should pluck a berry from the mistletoe branch each time they kiss under it, and when there are no more berries left on the plant, there should be no more kissing.

This evergreen plant has lovely yellow or white berries, and is usually sold in bunches. Mistletoe is poisonous and should be kept away from pets. Mistletoe is a true parasitic plant — clean up any berries after the holidays.

For more information, select this link: about Mistletoe.

The Norfolk Island pine isn’t grown for its flowers but because it resembles a pine tree with its green needles and tiered branches. The Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) isn’t a true pine tree, but it is a tropical conifer that can grow up to 200 feet in the wild. It is native to Norfolk Island off the northwest coast of New Zealand in the tropical South Pacific Ocean.

This plant needs a moderate amount of light and tolerates a range of temperatures between 45 and 75 degrees F. If kept in warmer conditions, it also needs high humidity. Keep the soil moist but not excessively wet. Water and fertilize less frequently during periods of slowed growth. Special hints: The Norfolk Island pine will drop its needles if it doesn’t get enough light. Repot the plant when roots appear on the top of the potting soil or start growing out the bottom of the pot.

This “pine” often is used as a small Christmas tree where larger trees are not possible in a home or apartment. Only lightweight ornaments and small lights should be used to decorate the “tree.” Be sure not to weigh down the branches with too many decorations.

Raise the humidity level around the Norfolk Island pine with a humidifier or by placing the plant on a tray or saucer containing pebbles and water. Make sure the water level does not reach the bottom of the pot. Norfolk Island pines are rather slow growing. Repotting once every 3 to 4 years is usually sufficient.

If you are considering planting the Norfolk Island pine in the landscape, I suggest you rethink this. In the Florida landscape it can grow beyond 60’ tall and will make a single story home look disproportionately out of scale. Toss before you plant it outside.

For more information about the Norfolk Island pine, visit the UF Gardening Solutions webpage.

The Poinsettia is the most popular of the holiday plants. They are native to Mexico. The Aztecs used poinsettias for medicinal purposes in the14th-16th centuries and Montezuma, last of Aztec Kings, brought poinsettias to Mexico City. Carl Ludwig Willdenow was a German botanist, pharmacist, and plant taxonomist who assigned the botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima (most beautiful euphorbia), to the poinsettia. The common name is attributed to the 1st U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett (1828).

The poinsettia is not poisonous but some may develop a rash if the latex sap contacts the skin. There are several pests that may adversely affect the poinsettia including whitefly, hornworm caterpillars, aphids, mites, mealybugs, scale, scab, stem and root rots. There are few pesticides labeled for indoor use so if you are going to treat your plant for them, it is best done outside as is the watering and fertilizing of this plant.

Poinsettias are often kept after the holidays and sometimes added to the landscape. Re-blooming is tricky. Cut back the plant to 2/3 its height in July and then after October 1st, begin 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness each night, shape the plant as desired by selective pruning and/or pinching and continue until the holiday season arrives. Each night you do not provide uninterrupted darkness roughly equals a one day delay in getting holiday color.

For more information about poinsettia, see Poinsettia at a Glance.

Now you know about ten very common holiday plants and how to care for them after the holidays season. Happy Holidays.