January 03, 2008

By Victoria County Master Gardener Charlie Neumeyer
Edited by Charla Borchers Leon
“Placed in a draft-free location and watered when dry, holiday poinsettias of many colors should remain vibrant for weeks into the New Year with minimal care.  After its prime, the poinsettia can be made to bloom again next holiday season with prescribed pruning and programmed placement in dark and light conditions throughout the year.”
We invite them into our homes with open arms.  We lovingly care for them throughout the holidays and treat them as special guests.  Then, as the holidays draw to a close, we grow tired of them, think they’ve overstayed their welcome and want to throw them out with the torn up holiday wrapping paper.

I’m not talking about Aunt Phoebe and Uncle Ned.  I’m talking about the holiday plants we use to decorate and help celebrate the season.

Poinsettias, amaryllis, Christmas cactus, and paper whites are commonly used to make our holidays special, but we often just toss them out after the holidays.  With a little care, these plants can be integrated into our gardens and provide color long after the holidays are over.


Undoubtedly the most common holiday plant is the poinsettia.  They come in many colors and are easy to incorporate into any decorating scheme.  While they are in the house, they should be placed in an area free from drafts, watered when dry, and fertilized about every two weeks.  With minimal care, the poinsettia should remain colorful for many weeks.  But when the inevitable happens and the plants are past their prime, it is time to prepare them to move outside.

According to P. J. Ellison of Ellison’s Greenhouses, Inc. in Brenham, Texas, poinsettias can be made to bloom again next year.  Move the plant into an area where it receives good light and is protected from freezing.  In early spring, prune the plant back to 5 inches and continue to water and fertilize it.  In late spring, again prune 2 or 3 inches off the branches to promote side growth and re-pot the plant in a larger container.  After Labor Day, move the plant indoors where it will get at least 6 hours of direct light.  In late September, give the plant 13 hours of darkness and 11 hours of bright light.  On Thanksgiving day, stop the dark/light treatment and put the plant in a sunny area.  The poinsettia should re-bloom right on schedule.
If this sounds like too much work, the poinsettia can be planted in the garden in a protected area after the typical last freeze.  Choose an area that mimics the conditions described above.  While you may not end up with a florist quality plant, you should be rewarded with a plant that will become a part of your permanent landscape.

The amaryllis makes a spectacular holiday display either as a single specimen or in a mass display.  The amaryllis, like the Easter lily and narcissus, is one of the many bulbs that are forced to produce a bloom at a specific time.  While the amaryllis is in the house, place it in a spot where it receives good light and keep the soil moist.  When the holidays are over, it is time to move the plant outside.  According to Dr. William C. Welch, Texas A&M Extension Horticulturist, the amaryllis is easily naturalized in the garden.  After the blooms are spent, select a sunny and relatively dry spot in the garden.  Plant the bulb at the same depth it was in the pot, being sure that the neck of the bulb is above ground level.  Amaryllis normally bloom in the spring, so your bulb will skip one blooming season, but the next spring you should be rewarded with a dazzling display of color.  Once established, the amaryllis requires minimum care.


The Christmas cactus is another holiday favorite, but one that needs a little more attention than some of our other holiday guests.  According to Cynthia W. Mueller, a master gardener in Galveston County, the Christmas cactus is a tropical plant that, in its natural setting, lives in the crotches of jungle trees.  They are noted for their vibrant blooms that are pink, red or white.  The Christmas cactus requires a light, porous soil and should be watered only when the potting medium is dry to the touch.  Overwatering will cause the plant to shed its blooms.  The plant should be kept indoors when temperatures drop below 60 degrees, but will do well outside for the rest of the year.  Personal experience has taught me that these plants do not like rough treatment, so be careful when moving the pot from one location to another.  According to Dr. William Welch, they are also easy to propagate.  Simply cut one or two segments off the tip of a stem and plant in a loose, sandy medium.  These plants should be kept in pots and with care, should last for several years.


Paper whites and other members of the narcissus family are another type of plant associated with the holidays.  The fragrant blooms and upright foliage of these plants add a nice touch to your holiday décor. These bulbs are easy to force, and, if you want to try your hand at this, go to and click on the Gardeners’ Dirt articles.  The December 16, 2004 article by Martha Sawyers, a member of the Victoria County Master Gardeners, explains in detail how to force bulbs for the holidays.

According to Dr. William C. Welch, paper whites are one of the easiest bulbs to naturalize in the garden.  After the blooms are spent, choose a location in the garden that is well-drained and gets good sun.  They will do well under deciduous trees that allow the plants to receive sun during late winter and early spring.  Although you may want to “tidy up” the plant, it is best to leave the foliage on the plant and let it die back completely before removing.  This is important because next year’s flowers begin forming with the current year’s foliage. Once established, the bulbs require a minimum of care and will provide an early spring display for years to come.

Unwanted house guests?  I think not.  Recycled holiday plants can be a valuable asset to your garden and will bring back memories of Christmas’ past.
“Once the blooms of the amaryllis in single or mass display are spent, the bulb can be planted outside in a sunny and relatively dry spot in your garden.  Planted at relatively the same depth that it was in the pot with the neck of the bulb above ground level, it will skip the blooming season this spring since it was forced to bloom for the holidays, but should provide a colorful display next year.  Once established, it requires minimal care for the beauty it can bring to your garden.”
GARDENING TO-DO’S AFTER THE HOLIDAYS --Rules and Tools for January

1. Give your Christmas blooming and foliage plants a new lease on life.  Follow the tips in the accompanying article.

2. January and February are the months to prune Live Oak trees.  Prune now.  No wound paint is needed in the months of January and February.

3. Clean and sharpen all of your gardening tools.

4. Now is the time to plan spring vegetable and flower beds.  It is not too early to begin soil preparations for these beds also.

5. If you want to move mature shrubs and trees, now is the time to do it.  Be sure to remove, cut back or thin out the top growth 1/3 to 1/2 before transplanting.

6. Lightly fertilize your pansies to maintain a strong bloom.

7. Roses, except for climbers, can be pruned now through mid-February.  Climbing roses should be pruned after the spring bloom.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, Texas 77901; or, or comment on this column at