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SKIP RICHTER: Decorate your home with holiday plants

SKIP RICHTER: Decorate your home with holiday plants

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When decorating your home for the holiday season, don’t forget to include indoor plants. Here are eight great choices to brighten up a room or decorate a table, along with some tips on their care.

• Poinsettias are the No. 1 holiday plant in the United States. A native plant of Mexico, the poinsettia was cultivated by the Aztecs long before the arrival of Europeans. Because of its brilliant color, the poinsettia was considered a symbol of purity. Now poinsettias are a favorite for decorating our homes during the holiday season.

To keep your poinsettia beautiful for a long time, keep the potting mix evenly moist but not soggy wet. Give it a very bright location during the daytime, and avoid cold or heat drafts.

• Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) bears red, lavender, salmon or white blooms, while the blooms of its cousin Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) come in red or white. These plants are not only beautiful but can be kept year-round for a repeating holiday season show if provided suitable conditions. They will tolerate some drying out a bit in the spring to late summer season, but once they have bloom buds, they insist on consistent moisture to avoid flower bud drop or root rots.

To stimulate bud formation for the holidays, in mid-September place them in darkness for at least 14 hours a day for six weeks. One way is to place a box or bucket over the plants when you arrive home at the end of the day and then remove it when you leave for work in the morning. They can live outdoors during the summer to fall season in a bright location out of direct sun, but bring them in on nights when the temperature drops into the low 50s.

• Rosemary is a relatively new arrival to the list of plants for holiday decorating. Nevertheless, in my book it belongs near the top. Growers shear them to a Christmas tree shape, suitable for decorating with tiny lights, mini ornaments or even small dried red peppers for a distinctively southwestern look.

The plants are wonderfully fragrant when touched and make a great table centerpiece for a holiday gathering. They need lots of light, so to keep them looking great, place the plants in a sunlit window or leave them outdoors as much as possible to avoid weak, spindly new growth.

When the holidays are over, plant your rosemary outdoors, where it will make a great shrub in sunny, well-drained areas of the landscape.

• Cyclamen are excellent for short-term indoor holiday displays. These cool-season bloomers love a bright, shady outdoor location and can withstand temperatures below freezing, although the blooms may be lost in a moderate freeze. They prefer daytime temps around 60 to 65 degrees. They are excellent for a bright entranceway or porch but can be brought indoors to decorate for short periods of time, especially if given a very bright location. Bloom colors include red, pink and white, and even rose and light purple.

• Norfolk Island pine has crashed the holiday plant party, not because of cool-season color, but as a green mini tree for decorating with small ornaments, bows and other holiday bling. Native to Norfolk Island in the Pacific Ocean, these trees can reach 200 feet tall in a freeze-free climate. I keep mine outdoors as much as possible through the frost-free seasons, but they will do fine inside near a bright window. Like most “houseplants,” they like moist, but not soggy, soil.

• Kalanchoe has become quite a popular florist plant, offering bloom clusters in shades of red, orange, yellow, white and pink. They prefer bright light and grow spindly if left in a lower light area. As a succulent, kalanchoe prefers to dry out between waterings. I forgot about one hidden behind another plant on the porch for about four weeks last summer before finally discovering it alive and willing to be revived.

Kalanchoe can be triggered to rebloom in the fall by following the same protocol mentioned above for Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti.

• Amaryllis are available as large bulbs suitable for forcing in a container not more than one-half wider than the bulb. Leave a third of the bulbs above the soil. Roots will soon form, and a tall bloom stalk will appear with several large trumpet blooms in shades of white, pink, red, orange or salmon.

When an amaryllis is putting on its show, it grabs the eye like a plastic pink flamingo in the front yard. Some types will naturalize in the landscape, but if you want the most dependable landscape beauty, choose bulbs of Johnson’s amaryllis (Hippeastrum johnsonii), which is used as a landscape plant rather than for forcing indoors.

Local garden centers are stocking up on these plants, so shop soon for the best selection.

Robert “Skip” Richter is the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Horticulture Agent for Brazos County, 2619 Texas 21 W., Bryan, Texas 77803. For local gardening information and events, visit Gardening questions? Call Skip at 823-0129 or email

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Plants develop maximum hardiness when temperatures drop gradually over time. A week of mild to warm days followed by a hard freeze is a recipe for serious plant injury. When cold weather threatens, there are things gardeners can do to protect plants from freeze injury. 


When planning new additions to the landscape, consider including a few plants for the specific purpose of using their foliage, berries and plumes to decorate inside your home, both during the holidays and all year long.

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