Bringing the outdoors in: A guide to holiday plants and their care

It’s that time of the year again, when outdoor plants make their way into the home to create a joyful atmosphere for the holidays. From the iconic Christmas tree to the vibrant Poinsettia, this comprehensive guide for holiday plants and their care comes from seasoned Lowcountry gardeners. They share tips on how to select, care for, and even dispose of these botanical gems.

Whether you’re a seasoned plant enthusiast or a holiday greenery novice, these expert tips will guide you in creating a merry, sustainable ambiance that will last all season long. 
The Iconic Poinsettia
Undoubtedly the most recognized holiday flower, the Poinsettia often takes center stage in the world of holiday plants. Originating from Mexico and introduced to the United States in 1828, this vibrant symbol of the season boasts tight yellow clusters surrounded by colorful bracts, often Christmas-red. 
Reilly Owens, a gardener at Hidden Ponds Nursery in Awendaw, suggests placing Poinsettias in areas with at least six hours of bright, indirect light. 
“Poinsettias like a room with bright light,” Owens says. “Although they are a winter plant, they do not like to be in temperatures below 50 F. They do like to be regularly watered, but be careful not to overwater. This can lead to root rot.”
Moist soil and careful watering are essential when the soil feels dry, with temperatures ideally staying between 70 F during the day and not dropping below 50 F at night.
Festive Cacti
Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti come into focus during the holiday season. Carolyn Goff, a Clemson Extension Tri-County master gardener at the Daniel Island Garden Club, says these plants are favored for their showy flowers in assortments of fuchsia, red, pink, white, yellow and orange. 
Placing them in bright, indirect light and watering when the soil is dry contributes to their longevity. When nighttime temperatures are above 50 F, Goff says they can be placed outdoors in a partly shaded spot. 
“These cacti make great patio and screen porch plants,” Goff recommends. 
Owens advised the same sentiment, saying, “I personally keep my Thanksgiving cactus on my screened in back porch year round and only bring it in during a freeze.”
Amaryllis, with trumpet-shaped flowers, prefers warm indoor environments with direct sunlight for at least four hours daily. With a range of colors stemming from pink and white to salmon, these plants typically have two to six flowers per stalk. Once the plant flowers, cooler temperatures and indirect sunlight will prolong the life of the flower. 
Goff advises plant enthusiasts to only water when the soil feels dry to the touch.
“As the plant begins to grow, you should fertilize twice a month using a soluble fertilizer recommended for pot plants at full strength and frequency,” she says.
Delicate Cyclamen 
Goff highlights Florist’s Cyclamen, known for heart-shaped leaves and winter blooms. Cyclamen prefer cool temperatures between 60 F and 65 F, bright indirect light, and thorough soil soaking. 
“If your house is too warm, the plant will begin to yellow and the flowers will fade rapidly, so the perfect spot might be on your porch, balcony or deck,” Goff advises.
The master gardener recommends watering only when the soil is dry to the touch and says to water around the edge of the pot or from below the leaves instead of directly at the stem, which would cause rotting. Most cyclamen will bloom for up to four weeks.
“You can encourage more flowers by deadheading spent flowers,” Goff says. “Grab the spent flower stem securely and pull off completely from the crown of the plant.”
Traditional Mistletoe 
Mistletoe, known for its romantic allure, is easily found throughout South Carolina with its leathery light green leaves and white berries. They require bright, indirect light and appreciate a daily water mist to help with dry, indoor air. 
However, this plant is a parasite to the oak tree and its berries are toxic to humans and animals. Goff’s only recommendation is to keep this mystic plant high in the household, such as above a doorway, allowing guests to share a kiss, not share the berry’s poison. 
When it comes to simple yet elegant additions to your holiday decor, paperwhites take center stage. According to Owens, these delicate flowers benefit from a steady watering schedule. She recommends keeping them in a cool location away from direct sunlight to extend their bloom time. 
These plants can be placed outside throughout the year and brought inside for the holidays, in a pot for easy care and maintenance. 
Choosing the Perfect Christmas Tree
Goff says there are two main choices when determining the perfect Christmas tree: a pre-cut or a choose-and-cut tree. According to Goff, getting a tree from a tree farm is the freshest option, typically lasts the longest, and is often less expensive. 
“When evaluating the tree, make sure the tree looks healthy and green with few brown needles, and that the trunk does not have visible splits. If it does, it will not take up water well,” Goff points out. “Feel the needles to see if they are flexible and do not fall off easily. Make sure the base of the trunk is straight and long enough to fit into the tree stand.”
To keep it fresh, she recommends re-cutting the tree at least one inch from the base of the trunk and placing the tree in plain, clean water. Tree stands that hold at least one to two gallons of water are best, Goff says, as fresh trees drink a lot of water. Check that the water level covers the tree trunk base at least once per day.
Owens shares her secret when shopping for the perfect tree, noting how crucial it is to know how the tree will hold up through the coming weeks. “Test a branch by gently grabbing and pulling towards you. The needles should not fall off if it is a well-hydrated tree.”
Ronda Housand, co-owner of Clements Ferry’s Housand’s Christmas Trees, recommends a Frazier fir tree for the best needle retention and fragrance. She urges residents to keep Christmas trees away from heater vents and even fireplaces, as that will dry out a tree quicker. 
She promotes her company and tree farms all over the Lowcountry, saying, “If you get your tree from a stand versus a chain store, you ensure a fresher and better quality tree.”
Environmental Considerations for Disposing Christmas Trees
Moira McNamara, a fellow master gardener at the Daniel Island Garden Club, emphasizes environmentally friendly ways to dispose of Christmas trees. Whether you mulch or compost your tree, McNamara says trees should only be disposed of in areas designated by South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) biologists. Contact a local SCDNR office or your local recycling department to see what options are available.
Insights from Lowcountry Gardeners
Delving into the expertise of local gardeners, these Lowcountry masters of greenery share some additional tips to maintain a plant’s freshness and hydration once moving them inside. Owens says the biggest misconception she hears is that these holiday plants only last through the cold season. With the right care, your paperwhites and Poinsettias can provide foliage all year long. 
Dave Manger, a gardener at Roots and Shoots Nursery, says most holiday plants are chosen for their indoor aesthetic, so it is key to treat them like any other houseplant. He says bright light and avoiding drafty areas are key to keeping blooms happy. 
As residents begin to adorn mistletoe and amaryllis around the home, Manger encourages a more sustainable holiday approach.
“I think everybody should try sharing and displaying more native plants during the holidays. We’re so mild in Charleston that we can easily display them inside and out of our homes before planting them in our landscapes for a more sustainable holiday season.”

Daniel Island Publishing

225 Seven Farms Drive
Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
Fax Number: 843-856-8555


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