Caring for Christmas Houseplants

Nancy Tierney, Extension Master Gardener, Anoka County


The holidays are behind us, but what do I do with my Christmas plants?  The cookies are eaten, the tree is on the curb but my poinsettia is still looking great. The amaryllis is in bloom and the ornaments have been removed from the Norfolk Island pine. If you’re like me, I just can’t abandon them in the trash bin.

Amaryllis is a holiday favorite. It grows quickly and produces showy blooms with little care. Once the bloom has faded, cut back the flower stalk. Repot if the pot it is in doesn’t have a drainage hole. There should be at least an inch around the bulb. One third of the bulb should be above the soil. Amaryllis bulbs can stay in the same pot for many years. Place the pot in a bright sunny window and water when dry. Once the danger of frost has passed, you can move it outdoors. Find a sunny garden location and plant the pot and all. Dropping the entire pot into the soil makes it easy to bring inside come fall. Before the first frost, bring the pot inside, cut back the foliage and place it in a cool, dark place for at least two months. Bring the pot out of the dark, give it a drink and sunlight and watch it spring back to life. You can also plant the bulb directly in the ground and dig it up in the fall. Store the clean bulb in a paper bag in a cool, dark place for at least two months before potting inside.

Norfolk Island pine is not actually a true pine tree. It is a tropical plant and is not cold tolerant, making it best suited as a houseplant in our area. It needs high humidity, often an ongoing struggle during our dry winters. Humidity can be accomplished by placing the plant on a pebble tray with water, using a humidifier or misting weekly. The plant thrives in bright light and should be watered when the soil is dry to the touch.

Poinsettia is another tropical, native to Mexico. It will never be as showy again as when it came from the climate controlled greenhouse. When it drops green leaves, cut it back to 6-8 inches and allow the soil to dry out completely between watering. Keep the plant in bright light, away from cold drafts. After all danger of frost has passed, it can be repotted or planted outside in a sunny garden for the summer. Bring it back into the house before the first frost. It then needs 14 hours of total darkness and 6 hours of bright sunlight daily. Do this for 10 weeks to set flower buds. Did I just lose you? Yes, more work than most of us are up to. But this plant can still be enjoyed as a houseplant, and later as an annual for the less brave.

Enjoy your post holiday plants and think spring!