by Lynn Barber / Published November 2014
The classic holiday plant selection is most likely the Poinsettia. This is a beautiful landscape, container, or houseplant that was introduced in the United States in 1825 by Joel Poinsett, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
The traditional Poinsettia is bright red, which is more easily established for outdoor use than other colors. After much breeding, several other colors are available, which include pink, peach, white, burgundy, yellow, and marbled variations. What some think of as the flower is really the leaves, aka bracts. The actual flowers are the tiny clusters in the middle of the bracts. This is a “short-day” plant, meaning it blooms when days are short and nights are long. Blooming requires an extended period of darkness. If planted near artificial light, such as a street light or exterior house lighting after October 1, there will be a delay in flowering.
This tropical plant likes temperatures in the area of 75–80 degrees during the day and 65 degrees at night. If kept indoors, don’t fertilize or overwater. Give it a drink only when the soil is dry. You can plant Poinsettia outside after the last chance of frost has passed. If kept outdoors, it should be located in the sun and away from artificial light. Prune four to six inches of stem on each branch; then fertilize monthly with a balanced fertilizer from March to October. This plant has received a bad reputation as being poisonous, but it’s not. There is white, milky sap in the stem. However, if you are allergic to latex, you are probably better off not handling this plant.
Amaryllis, another holiday favorite, is a bulb that produces large, trumpet-shaped flowers, which add a pop of color when planted in groups. It is also a good container plant and can reach a height and spread of one to three feet. This bulb needs well-drained soil and soil pH that is slightly acidic to slightly alkaline, 6.0–7.2. Any soil texture works well, from clay loam to sandy loam, from sand to sandy clay. Amaryllis has medium-drought and low-to-no salt tolerance. It makes a great impact when planted in terraces, at gate entrances, or as a border plant in groups of 10 or more. Plant this bulb between September and January. Amaryllis performs best in partial shade and well in sun. Propagation is from seeds, cuttings, and smaller bulbs attached to the “mother” bulbs. You can leave bulbs in the ground for years or dig them up and replant them during September and October.
Gardenia produces fragrant, white flowers and sports glossy, dark green leaves. This plant can reach a height and spread of four to eight feet. Full sun to partial shade provides the best flowering. Well-drained soil that has been amended with organic matter is preferred. Soil pH for Gardenias is acidic to slightly acidic, 4.5–6.5. Any soil texture will work. This large shrub has medium-drought and low-to-no salt tolerance. It should be fertilized two to three times each year. After flowering has been completed, it can be pruned. However, if you prune after October 1, that activity will decrease the blooming the following year. Bud drop, caused by insects, root injury, and weather conditions, can be an issue. Propagation is by grafting or cuttings. Many cultivars are available with varying flower size and flowering times. Gardenia can be used as a hedge, groundcover, is beautiful in mass plantings, or as a specimen plant. Mine is near the front porch, so I can smell the blooms while sitting on the swing and enjoying nature.
Christmas (and Easter and Thanksgiving) cactus are each distinct with variations in their leaves and flowers. This article is focusing on Christmas cactus, which, like Poinsettia, is a short-day plant. For this plant to bloom during the holidays, move it to a dark area from 5:00 p.m.–8:00 a.m. daily for six weeks. Christmas cactus grows best if it is placed in bright light. If indoors, place the plant within six feet of a window. Light exposure in a north window is not effective, so use south, east, and west windows. It prefers well-drained soil. Propagation is from cuttings. Flowers vary in color from white to pink to red and more. This plant is great in containers on a front porch, lanai, or as a houseplant.
For more information about these holiday gems, please see the University of Florida publications, Poinsettias at a Glance by Sydney Park Brown, Amaryllis by Sydney Park Brown and Robert J. Black, Gardenias at a Glance by Sydney Park Brown and Joan Bradshaw, and Colorful Christmas Cactus Care by Dan Culbert from which the information contained in this article was adapted.
As always, follow the landscape or architectural control procedures in your deed restrictions before making changes.
For more information about the nine principles of the Florida-Friendly LandscapingTM Program or for assistance with gardening-related questions, contact your local Extension office and/or visit the University of Florida website: