Holiday Plant Hell

Amaryllis and Christmas Cactus

A thorough, once a week watering is usually fine for Amaryllis and Christmas cactus. Remember that although the common name is Christmas cactus, this plant isn’t a succulent and needs more regular water than most cacti do. If these plants are put outdoors in part-sun for the summer, and fertilized regularly, they can be kept healthy and growing for years to come.

If it’s the New Year you might have found that this holiday season the unthinkable has happened…someone has given you a holiday plant. Yes, you with the black thumbs are looking at a lovely, living plant that you swear will be dead before the confetti is cleaned up after New Year’s Eve.

You could quickly re-gift it, of course, tweak the foil wrapping a bit and take it to your mother. Leaving it by a neighbor’s door, ringing the bell, and running is always an option, and yes, I know that you’ve eyed the trashcan and thought, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

“But really,” you think, “it’s a plant, not the plague…I should be able to at least keep this sucker alive until Valentines day.”

Of course you can. You’re a bright, ambitious person, a reader of after all. Be resolved: that pretty, photosynthesizing carbon-based life form won’t start your new year off on a sour note! So here’s what you have to do:

1. Poke a hole in the bottom of that foil wrapping, or better yet, pull it off and throw it away. You want the water to be able to drain out of the hole on the bottom, so put a saucer, plastic storage carton or old Frisbee underneath the pot to catch the overflow when you water it.

2. Yes, you have to water it. This is where most people go wrong. Ignore that plant for longer than a week and it’s going to go to that Great Garden in the sky. Give it too much water, and the pot will turn into the Great Swamp. Many plant lovers will say that you should water when the soil looks and feels dry, and this is true, but for you grim reapers of horticulture, perhaps it’s best if you program watering into your blackberry. Water your new plant well every six days, letting the water fill the receptacle underneath…after the plant sits in that puddle for an hour, pour the excess water out of the saucer so the roots don’t rot.


If you receive a gift basket containing more than one plant, know that you’ll need to water each plant separately. The Poinsettia and the ivy in this arrangement are in individual pots and will all need watering.

3. Plants need light. Most holiday plants, Poinsettias, Christmas cactus, Cyclamen and the like, will do fine near an eastern or western facing window. Just remember to keep the blinds and curtains open during the day.

Learn about the difference between Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus here.

Keep your holiday gift for as long as it brings you pleasure. Some people are so thrilled that they haven’t killed a plant that they keep it until it’s long past blooming and bears little resemblance to something that once lived in a greenhouse. Sometimes it’s not absence that makes the heart grow fonder, it’s success. But if you no longer care for the plant once the flowering ceases, by all means, toss it in the garbage, or better yet, the compost pile.

See, I’m hoping that this unthinkable gift will turn a few of you into plant lovers, or, dare I say it, gardeners. The rest of you will either know the satisfaction of keeping a plant alive while it’s in its prime, or you’ll know with certainty should anyone give you a similar gift next year, it’ll definitely get re-gifted as soon as possible.

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