Hold the Water, Sprinkle with Love

Transform holiday houseplants into all-season beauties

By now, your holiday lights have likely been stored and your evergreens kicked to the curb. But what about those leftover potted plants? You know the ones — the last-minute gifts you received from gracious dinner guests, the late season bargain bin rescues from Home Depot. Rather than tossing them into the compost pile, here’s how you can keep them on your windowsill for months to come:

Since most houseplants, including poinsettias, Christmas cacti, and cyclamen, are already tolerant of the dry air and low light levels found indoors during the winter, they can actually be quite easy to care for. Simply treat them like you would a new relationship: Give them attention, but don’t smother them.

First off, if your pots have foil wrappers, you’ll want to remove them. Next, check to see if they have drainage holes. If not, you’ll want to repot the plants, and then keep them on the dry side throughout the cold season. When the top inch or so of soil becomes dry, water until you see liquid draining out of the bottom of the pots, and be sure to discard any that remains in the saucers.

Alternatively, you can just give plants a quick soak in the sink. No matter the method, infrequent is best. Drowning and root rot associated with soil that is constantly wet are the leading causes of death among houseplants.


Another point to consider is humidity. Cold air has a higher relative humidity than heated air pushed through vents, so you’ll want to keep your plants away from vents and drop your thermostat to 68 degrees. For more finicky plants, you may also want to invest in a humidifier. Or, try placing them on saucers covered with pebbles and fill with water to just below the top of the stones. As the water evaporates, humidity increases.

Beyond these basics are the blooms. While certain plants, like Christmas cacti, will naturally set flower buds when the days shorten—giving their best show around Thanksgiving—others, like cyclamen, will bloom constantly if given enough light and kept in cooler temperatures. Poinsettias, however, are more of a challenge. They need to spend at least 12 hours in absolute darkness for about six weeks to induce bract coloration. For December blooms, begin treatment in October.

Follow these tips and your holiday houseplants can transform into all-season beauties. In fact, with just a sprinkle of love, you may just have the beginning of several beautiful friendships that last for years.

Scott Creary is staff entomologist for Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, where his duties include educating the public about bugs, plants, and green living. He is also an ISA Certified Arborist with a B.S. in horticulture and an M.S. in entomology from Cornell University and the University of Maryland.