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Care of Holiday Gift Plants: Home

Gardenia jasminoides in flower; photo by Ivo Vermeulen
Gardenia jasminoides in flower; photo by Ivo Vermeulen

An ornamental holiday houseplant is a special gift. While it is a challenge to replicate the natural growing conditions of these primarily tropical plants, it is possible to grow them successfully indoors.

Whether you are a novice or have a seasoned green thumb, follow these cultural tips for success:


Lighting, Watering & Temperature

Botanical Name

Common Name

Light Preference



Bright light, no direct sunlight, except eastern exposure in winter.
When top 1/2" of soil is dry to the touch.
65°F during day; 50°F at night for best growth conditions.
Schlumbergera x buckleyi
Christmas cactus
Very bright light conditions with at least 2 hours of winter sun.
Water thoroughly when top half of soil feels completely dry. After 15 minutes, remove all excess water from the saucer.
To encourage cactus to set buds in autumn, keep night temperature consistently between 45° and 55°F. To prevent bud drop, avoid drafts and big temperature fluctuations. Keep humidity high.
Begonia x hiemalis
elatior or rieger begonia
Bright, filtered light, with maximum light in winter.
When soil feels dry, water thoroughly. Discard excess water after 15 minutes.
70°F during day; 50°F at night.
Hedera helix
English ivy
Bright light with 1 to 2 hours of sunlight in winter, none in summer.
Keep evenly moist, not allowing to dry out to the point of wilting.
65°F during day; 50°F at night for best growth conditions.
Cyclamen persicum
florist's cyclamen
Bright light all day with 1 or 2 hours of full sun.
Water from below, as tubers become waterlogged. If watering from above, keep water out of center of plant.
65°F during day; 50°F at night for best growth conditions.
Gardenia jasminoides
Bright light with at least 4 hours of sunlight per day.
Keep evenly moist, not allowing to dry out to the point of wilting. Water with distilled water once a month to leach out fertilizer salts.
65° to 70°F during day; below 55°F at night for best growth conditions. Higher temperatures will result in leaf and bud drop. Provide extra humidity.
Jasminum: J. laurifolium var. laurifolium, J. sambac, J. officinale 'Grandiflorum', J.polyanthum
Bright light, with some direct exposure in east or west site.
Keep moist at all times; wilts easily.
J. laurifolium var. laurifolium and J. sambac prefer night temp. above 60°F. J. officinale 'Grandiflorum' blooms best at 55°F or lower.
Kalanchoe blossfeldiana
Give abundant sunlight with at least 4 hours of direct sunlight every day.
Water thoroughly when top layer of soil feels dry to the touch.
65° to 75°F during the day; 50° to 60°F at night for best growth conditions.
Rosa spp.
miniature rose
Bright sunny window.
Continuous light watering. Do not let dry out, but do not soak, which will cause root rot.
70° to 75°F. High temperatures can result in spider mites.
Araucaria heterophylla
Norfolk Island pine
Bright light, preferably east or west window with 2 hours of direct sun for color.
When soil feels dry at 1/2" depth, water thoroughly. Discard excess water after 15 minutes.
Grows best between 60° to 72°F during the day and 50° to 65°F at night.
Capsicum frutescens and Solanum pseudocapsicum
ornamental pepper and Jerusalem cherry
Minimum of 4 hours direct sun every day, preferably eastern exposure.
Water thoroughly when top layer of soil feels dry. Do not allow plants to dry out.
These South American natives prefer 70°F in the day and 60° to 65°F at night .
Euphorbia pulcherrima
A minimum of 4 hours of direct sunlight per day.
When top layer of soil is dry to the touch, water until water drains from bottom. Discard excess water after 15 minutes.
For best growth conditions, 65° to 70°F during the day; 55° to 60°F at night.
Rosmarinus officinalis
Direct sun for 4 to 5 hours.
Increase humidity with a pebble tray filled with water halfway up the pebbles. Good air circulation essential.
Warm spring and summer; Cool room during the winter.

Feeding, Propagation & Maintenance

Common Name


Transplanting/ Propagation


Special Tips

Slow release, balanced pellet fertilizer after repotting.
After foliage yellows completely, store potted bulb in a cool dry place, (55° to 65°F). When signs of life appear, re-pot in a mix of sterilized houseplant potting soil, peat moss and sand with plenty of shards for drainage.
Remove faded flowers but do not cut off other foliage.
Do not let flowers touch cold window glass in winter.
Christmas cactus
Christmas cactus grows best in clay pots in a soil mix of one part shredded peat moss, one part sterilized houseplant potting mix and one part sand. Propagate by taking 3 to 4" stem cuttings in spring or summer.
Removal of spent flowers and stem tips after flowering promotes branching and more flowers.
Can be coaxed into bloom if night temperatures are kept cool (50° to 55°F). If night temperature is 55° to 70°F, 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness must be given for buds to form. Cover plants with a black cloth during the night.
Riegor begonia
Monthly, using water soluble fertilizer of 15-30-15
Avoid hot or cold drafts. Pinch above leaf node to promote bushier growth.
Does not like to be pot bound.
English ivy
Feed March through September with dilute standard liquid fertilizer every two weeks
When roots show growth from bottom of the container, transplant to the next larger pot size. Use soil based potting mix. Propagate from stem cuttings taken just below leaf node or by layering.
Regular cleaning, pinching and checking for diseases/ insects. Trim weak or spindly growth in early spring. Prune long stems as necessary.
To dislodge and discourage spider mites, rinse plant under running water once a month.
florist's cyclamen
Starting in May, fertilize every 2 weeks with a water soluble fertilizer high in phosphorous
Grows easily from seed under fluorescent lights for 14 to 16 hours per day. Start seeds in winter for flowering next autumn.
When dormancy begins, separate the yellow leaves from the tuber. Hold off on watering and re-pot tubers into a mix of equal parts sterilized houseplant potting soil and perlite. Plant with the tuber 1/2" above soil. Resume normal watering.
Cyclamen grows best under very cool, bright conditions with a relative humidity above 50%. Coax cyclamen into dormancy by holding back on watering after flowering period.
Feed during the growing season, March through September, with a dilute fertilizer with iron for acid-loving plants
Transplant when pot-bound into a mixture 2 parts peat moss, one part sterilized houseplant potting soil and one part sand or perlite. To propagate, take a 3 to 4" stem cutting in early spring, removing just below the leaf node. Dip tip of stem in rooting hormone.
To encourage continuous bloom, keep the night temperatures below 55°F and feed with dilute fertilizer with iron every two weeks during the growing season. Prune/ shape the plant in early spring to encourage branching and compact growth.
Monitor and treat insects and spider mites as quickly as possible. Avoid leaf and flower bud drop by giving proper light, temperature and humidity.
Standard liquid fertilizer once every two weeks during spring/ summer.
Soil based potting mix. In summer, move young plants of J. mesnyi and J. polyanthum into pots one or two sizes larger. In early spring, re-pot J. officinale 'Grandiflorum'.
Grows rapidly. Prune often as needed.
When plant reaches 8 to 10" pot size, top dress with fresh potting soil annually.
After flowering, use a water soluble fertilizer for flowering houseplants. Feed twice monthly during the growing season from March to September
In early spring after flowering, re-pot into a rich, well-drained, porous soil mix of one part sterilized houseplant potting soil, one part coarse builder's sand, one part organic matter and a handful of small, crushed stones.
Prune and shape after flowering. To re-bloom for Christmas, begin on September 1 and cover the plant with a black cloth from 6 pm to 7 am every night until October 1. The buds will form under these conditions .
If re-blooming is not required at holiday time, the plant will bloom normally in the spring.
miniature rose
Move to the next size pot only when roots fill the container.
Plants can overwinter outside in moderate climates but need shelter in areas where it freezes.
Norfolk Island pine
Feed every two weeks with dilute, standard, water soluble fertilizer during the growing season, March to September.
Transplant to next larger, deep pot size. Use mix with equal parts sterilized houseplant potting soil, peat moss and sand or perlite, along with a tablespoon of bone meal. Propagate from tip cuttings from very top of old plants .
Turn slightly evey week for symmetrical growth. Supply extra humidity, especially during dry winter months, to avoid the common problem of brown needles.
Needs as much natural light as possible in the winter months for good symmetrical development.
ornamental pepper and Jerusalem cherry
Between March and September, feed once a month with water soluble tomato-type fertilizer.
Indoors, both plants should be treated as annuals. Discard once fruiting season is over as plants decline in vigor. From January to early March, they are easily grown from seed. Seedlings are best grown outdoors over summer in eastern sun.
Keep pinching back stem tips every few weeks during the growing season to encourage branching and flower production.
Remember to discard when plants go into decline as they act like annuals when grown indoors .
Feed plants started from cuttings with a water soluble all purpose fertilizer twice monthly from March through September
Move to next pot size when plant becomes pot-bound. Use a mix of one part sterilized houseplant potting soil with one part coarse sand or perlite.
Keep in a sunny location to coax blooms. Bring outside for the summer and pinch back the growing tips to promote bushiness. Bring back indoors before the first frost and give 14 hours of darkness per night until bracts show color.
You must provide extended and uninterrupted darkness in order for the bracts to change color. Keep night temperatures low and remember to give the plant light each day .
During the growing season, fertilize every two weeks with a dilute 5-10-5 fertilizer
Re-pot after the growing season, especially if leaves are yellowing at the base which is an indication of a pot-bound plant. Re-pot to next pot size only. Prefers slightly alkaline soil. Mulch with 2" of sand as a top dressing.
For topiary and other specimens, pinch tips regularly to promote bushiness. Rotate once a week for even growth.
A foliar feed of seaweed and/ or fish emulsion will invigorate your specimen.

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