Houseplants for the Holidays

— Written By and last updated by Margaret Green

Plants with bright foliage or colorful flowers add tremendously to holiday decorations. Have you thought about or started purchasing plants or bulbs for the holidays? Did you know you can keep those poinsettias year round or even produce new Christmas peppers from your previous plant? Here are a few tips about getting started with your holiday plants and keeping them looking great even after the holiday season.


The red “flowers” (actually leaves) should persist for several months after Christmas if you give them plenty of light, some fertilizer, and moderate water. Water about once a week with a diluted solution of an all-purpose house plant fertilizer. The poinsettia loves light, so place the plant in a well-lit room or a windowsill (not in direct sun). By late winter the foliage will wilt and fall off. This is a natural process, so don’t think you have killed the plant. After this happens, cut back on watering, place the plant in a dim spot and prune it back to about 8-10 inches tall. Next spring, a few days after the last frost, repot your poinsettia in a slightly larger pot and move it outdoors. By repotting you will encourage a stronger root system. You will need to prune it in May and again in July to keep it manageable and to promote side branching because a poinsettia can reach 5-6 feet in height. Then, you need to mark on your calendar to bring the plant indoors the first week of October to prepare it for the holiday season again. Give it a solid 15 hours of darkness every night until early December. You can put it in a closet and cover it with a black plastic bag. Do whatever you can to allow the plant to only receive nine hours of light during the day.

Christmas Cactus

A Christmas cactus can be enjoyed after the holidays by placing it in a spot that is bright, but not in direct sunlight, and watering it as needed. Early in the spring repot your Christmas cactus in a nutrient rich, slightly acidic growing medium. Use a pot that is about the same size as the original pot because allowing the plant to become pot bound induces a little stress which helps encourage flowering later. After the danger of frost has passed, put your plant outside in a location that gets diffused sunlight. Apply a diluted fertilizer solution about every two to three weeks and water as needed. The plant will need pruning to keep if from becoming leggy. You can take the cuttings and stick them into a moist growing medium to produce more plants.

Christmas Pepper

This plant is often used as a colorful indoor holiday plant. This plant needs to be kept in good light, evenly watered, and misted if the fruits begin to wrinkle. This plant tends to have the limited duration of an annual, so the colorful fruits will eventually fall off, leaving a skeleton of a plant. If you would like another pepper plant, there are more than enough seeds in the fallen peppers to provide you with plenty of plants next fall and winter. The seeds need to be washed in a solution of one part bleach and 10 parts water. Then, dry them on a paper towel for two days, put then in an airtight plastic bag with a little powdered milk (to absorb moisture), and store them in a cool, dry place. Next spring, plant the seeds in pots and allow them to grow as any other spring annual. In order to get better germination, try to warm the soil to 70 degrees by setting them on top of the refrigerator or water heater to provide bottom heat. It is also good to keep the maturing plants outdoors so bees and other passers-by can pollinate them.

For more information about taking care of your plants, or other plant questions you might have, contact the Franklin County Cooperative Extension Office at 919.496.3344 or visit our website at