When the days are at their shortest and it's frigid outside, a houseplant can be a saving grace, transforming a cold, sterile-feeling room into a welcoming space full of life, and offering a literal breath of fresh air.
That's why we love filling our homes with Christmas plants in the winter. And with the right care and attention, we can return the favor, making our spaces welcoming to our plants so they will love to live there.
"Many holiday plants can thrive for years with the right conditions and care," says Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist with the Chicago Botanic Garden. As with any garden, you do need to give your plants the right TLC to keep them blooming for this season and beyond.
While many Christmas plants will last, others are difficult to keep around for longer than a season, and may not be worth the extra effort. If you don't feel like coddling your plants, it's perfectly fine to send it to the compost pile and purchase a new one next year. But whether you plan to keep your plant alive for years and years — or you just want it to last until Santa has a chance to visit — there is still plenty you can do to keep it looking its best.
Here are 10 of our favorite indoor Christmas plants, from poinsettias and Christmas trees to slightly more exotic plants. We'll tell you what you need to know to take care of it, and offer some advice on whether to make it a permanent part of the household.
Got a favorite Christmas plant that's not on this list? Tell us in the comments below!
Prized for their ability to bloom indoors, these exotic-looking flowers (technically of the genus Hippeastrum) bloom about four to six weeks after you plant the bulb. Some varieties send up the flower first before the foliage.
PLANT CARE TIPS: Place in bright light, not hidden away on the coffee table where low light levels will cause it to grow floppy and topple. Turn the pot every few days to help the plant grow upright. Keep the soil evenly moist, but don't drown it.
KEEP OR TOSS: Keep! Once the flowers fade, cut the stalk but keep the leaves to help replenish the nutrients in the bulb. Move outside in a shaded area when the danger of frost is past. In late summer or early fall, let the plant go dormant and place in the garage or basement. Cut off the yellowed leaves, and ignore it (no water!) until November when you begin watering and start the growing cycle again.
These delicate-looking plants are not as fragile as they appear and will bloom for months with little care, says Pollak—maybe even into the spring.
PLANT CARE TIPS: Give orchids bright, indirect light. They generally prefer it on the cooler side indoors. Avoid sudden temperature changes, which causes buds to drop. Water once a week until water comes out the bottom of the pot (they're usually planted in a soil-less planting medium).
KEEP OR TOSS: Keep! Keep in a south, east or west window. Feed with a specific orchid fertilizer. Water regularly but in late summer, let the leaves dry out or wrinkle a bit to trigger the plant setting new buds. Once you see a new stem, start watering again but stop fertilizing.
Christmas cacti are so pretty, they just might rival the beauty of the ornaments on your tree. "These are one of the hardier holiday plants and can last for decades," says Pollak. Different species bloom at different times of year, including Thanksgiving and Easter.
PLANT CARE TIPS: Place in a bright window. Flower buds that drop before opening may be caused by warm temperatures or overly dry soil. Water when dry, but don't let the plant sit in water. "They're a succulent so the pads get soft and mushy if you overwater," says Pollak. Check pot every seven to 10 days.
KEEP OR TOSS: Keep! To get flowers to set next year, take the plant outdoors for about three weeks in late summer to early fall, bringing it indoors before temperatures dip into the mid-40s. They prefer to be pot-bound, so no need to repot for years. Fertilize monthly during the growing season from April to October.
Poinsettias are nearly as classic as Christmas movies! "Choose plants that have little yellow flowers, called cyathia, in the center of the colored leaves," says Gary Vollmer, product and technical manager with Selecta North America, a poinsettia breeder. If you chose a plant that's shedding pollen or the yellow flowers have dropped off, it's past its prime and won't last through the season.
PLANT CARE TIPS: Cover your poinsettia when bringing it home, especially if temperatures are in the 20s or lower, and don't leave it in the car while you run errands. Water when dry to the touch; overwatering is the most common way to kill them! Remove the foil or pot cover (or poke holes in it) that's around the plant when you buy to ensure the plant is not sitting in water. Water sparingly, then let drain completely in the sink.
KEEP OR TOSS: Your call (but it will take some work to make it rebloom)! To promote flowering next year, place in a bright window after the holidays. After April 1, remove the colored leaves (called bracts). Shape as needed by pinching tips until early August. Feed every two weeks with a standard fertilizer. In September, move to a room where it gets only natural light with absolutely zero artificial light after sunset. In early October, move back to your regular living area, and cross your fingers!
Whether you're cutting down your own evergreen or selecting a pre-cut tree, check for insects and pests as well as any damage, such as broken branches. Test the freshness of a pre-cut tree by pulling on a branch; they should be flexible without a handful of needles coming off in your hand. Also, does it have a nice green color? Does it smell fresh?
PLANT CARE TIPS: Before putting your cut Christmas tree in water, saw off about 1/4 inch straight across the bottom of the trunk. Secure the tree in a stand that fits (don't whittle the sides to force it because the outer layers are most efficient at taking up water). Position it away from heat sources, fill with water, and keep it filled. A cut Christmas tree will drink a lot in the first week, so you should check it every single day! Despite tips you may have read online, experts agree that there's no need to feed it anything other than water--which is what it drinks in the wild. Another tip? Use LED lights, which won't dry it out as fast as incandescent strings.
KEEP OR TOSS: A cut Christmas tree generally stays fresh for a month or so with proper care.
These cool-season plants tolerate temperatures into the 40s, which is why they're popular in the winter months. They can bloom for more than eight weeks with the right conditions.
PLANT CARE TIPS: Place in medium diffused, not super-bright, light. Avoid warm drafts to prolong flowering, and deadhead spent flowers and yellow leaves by pulling off the entire stem near the foliage line. Water from the base, not from the top, by setting it in a saucer of water and letting it absorb for 15 to 20 minutes, then remove the plant. Avoid splashing water on the leaves.
KEEP OR TOSS: Toss! It's tough to get cyclamen to re-bloom.
This long-lasting plant is native to the South Pacific so it cannot be planted outdoors in most of the country, says Pollak. It makes a great tabletop tree if you don't have room for a big one, but its branches tend to get weighed down easily, so stick with lightweight ornaments.
PLANT CARE TIPS: Keep it in medium-bright light such as an east or west-facing window. It needs about six to eight hours of light per day. Light conditions that are too low may cause lower branches to drop. Water when dry to the touch, but don't let it dry out too much or branches will dry up (and they won't grow back on the bottom of the tree).
KEEP OR TOSS: Keep! Every two years, refresh the planting medium by topdressing with new soil. It prefers to be pot-bound. You can take it outdoors in late spring if you like, but keep it shaded. Bring inside before temps drop lower than 40 degrees. Fertilize every 6 to 8 weeks with a standard fertilizer. Toss when it gets too leggy.
These adorable tiny fern-like plants tinged with white are a newcomer to the holiday lineup. They're increasingly available at high-end grocers and nurseries. Keep them on your dining room table or desk; just the sight of them will inspire some seriously meaningful Christmas card messages!
PLANT CARE TIPS: Place in low to medium light. They prefer consistent humidity, so they do well in terrariums. Keep the soil slightly moist. Use room temperature, not cold, water. Water from below by placing in a saucer of water, letting it absorb for 15 minutes, the removing the plant.
KEEP OR TOSS: Keep, if you're lucky. The plant is on the finicky side and often dies long before you get tired of it. No worries. Enjoy its delicate form as long as you can.
These often come in kits or loose bulbs with a planting medium. Pot them up and enjoy the fragrant blooms in two to three weeks.
PLANT CARE TIPS: Keep them in a cool but sunny location. Locations that are too warm cause leggy growth. As soon as the flowers emerge, tie the stems to a decorative stake to prevent them from toppling over. Water regularly so that the soil stays evenly moist.
KEEP OR TOSS: Toss! They're inexpensive enough to buy again next year, and they're tropical so they can't be replanted outdoors.
This kitchen staple makes a hardy indoor or outdoor bush, often sheared into a topiary or pyramidal shape to mimic a Christmas tree. Its fresh piney scent is invigorating in the middle of a dreary winter and of course makes a savory addition to roasts. You can also bake with it or use it to infuse salt.
PLANT CARE TIPS: Place in bright light in a south or west-facing window. The more light the better or it tends to drop leaves. Keep the soil evenly moist by checking the pot every few days. "The number one most common mistake with rosemary is underwatering," says Pollak. These plants are Mediterranean, but they don't like to dry out completely.
KEEP OR TOSS: Keep! Move it outside as soon as your area is frost-free, typically sometime in May. Fertilize every few months with a slow-release pellet-type product, and let it grow naturally. You don't need to maintain the topiary or pyramidal shape unless you like it.