10 Best Christmas Plants and Flowers—Plus How to Make Them Thrive 'Til Santa Arrives

Keep your Christmas tree, plants, and flowers beautiful the whole season long.

christmas plants flowers
Max Kim-Bee

Who says winter's not gardening season? Holiday greenery and flowers add color and life to your home on a chilly day. In fact, plants are a huge part of holiday decor. Think trees, poinsettias, and even the Christmas cactus. But if yours never seem to last, you may be treating them all wrong. "Many holiday plants can thrive for years with the right conditions and care," says Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist with the . Here's how to ensure your favorites won't end up as the Ghost of Christmas Past before the holidays even arrive.

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Christmas Tree
christmas tree plant care
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O Tannenbaum, indeed! Christmas trees are the most iconic Christmas plant, and you can get them cut or potted. Whether you're cutting down your own evergreen or selecting a pre-cut spruce, pine, or fir, you'll want to check for insects and pests as well as any damage, such as broken branches.

Test the freshness of a pre-cut tree by pulling on a branch. They should be sturdy enough to hold ornaments, and the needles should be flexible and not shed. Use your other senses: Does it have a nice green (not brown) color? How does it smell? (Of course, a living tree will be fresh.) Take the height of your room into consideration, and make sure you have a way to water it.

HOW TO CARE FOR IT

Before putting your cut Christmas tree in water, saw off about 1/4 inch from the trunk. Secure the tree in a stand that fits (don't whittle the sides to force it). Position the conifer away from heat sources, fill with water, and keep it filled. A cut Christmas tree will drink a lot in the first week. Despite tips you may have read online, experts including the agree that there's no need to feed it anything other than water.

KEEP OR TOSS?

A cut Christmas tree generally stays fresh for a month or so when it's well cared for. After three or four weeks, when the needles become dry and brittle, it might be time to toss. If you went with a potted Christmas tree, you'll only want to display it for a week or so before transitioning it to the garage to help it acclimate to the cold, then into a hole outside, where you should keep it well-watered.

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Poinsettia
poinsettia red christmas flower
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"Choose plants that have little yellow flowers, called cyathia, in the center of the colored leaves," says Gary Vollmer, product and technical manager with Selecta North America, a poinsettia breeder. If you chose a plant that's shedding pollen or the yellow flowers have dropped off, it's past its prime and won't last through the season.

HOW TO CARE FOR IT

Cover your poinsettia when bringing it home, especially if temperatures are in the 20s or lower, and don't leave it in the car while you run errands. Water when dry to the touch. "The most reliable way to kill them is root rot from overwatering," says Vollmer. Remove the foil or pot cover (or poke holes in it) that's around the plant when you buy to ensure it's not sitting in water. Water sparingly, then let drain completely in the sink.

KEEP OR TOSS?

Your call! To promote flowering next year, place in a bright window after the holidays. After April 1, remove the colored leaves (called bracts). Shape as needed by pinching tips until early August. Feed every two weeks with a standard fertilizer. In September, move to a room where it gets only Mother Nature's light with absolutely zero artificial light after sunset. In early October, move back to your regular living area, and cross your fingers.

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Christmas Cactus
christmas cactus plant
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"These are one of the hardier holiday plants and can last for years and years," says Pollak. Different species bloom at different times of year including Thanksgiving and Easter.

HOW TO CARE FOR IT

Place in a bright window. Flower buds that drop before opening may be caused by warm temperatures or overly dry soil. Water when dry, but don't let the plant sit in water. "They're a succulent and the pads get soft and mushy if you overwater," says Pollak. Check pot every seven to 10 days.

KEEP OR TOSS?

Keep! To get flowers to set next year, take the plant outdoors for about three weeks in late summer to early fall, bringing it indoors before temperatures dip into the mid-40s. They prefer to be pot-bound, so no need to repot for years. Fertilize monthly between April to October.

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Cyclamen
cyclamen holiday plant care
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These cool-season plants tolerate temperatures into the 40s, which is why they're popular in the winter months. They can bloom for more than eight weeks with the right conditions.

HOW TO CARE FOR IT

Place in medium diffused, not super-bright, light. Avoid warm drafts to prolong flowering, and deadhead spent flowers and yellow leaves by pulling off the entire stem near the foliage line. Water from the base, not from the top, by setting it in a saucer of water and letting it absorb for 15 to 20 minutes, then remove the plant. Avoid splashing water on the leaves.

KEEP OR TOSS?

Toss! It's tough to get cyclamen to re-bloom.

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Rosemary
rosemary christmas tree plant care
Ikaroo

This plant often is sheared into a topiary or pyramidal shape to mimic a Christmas tree. Its fresh piney scent is invigorating in the middle of a dreary winter and is a savory addition to stews and roasts.

HOW TO CARE FOR IT

Place in bright light in a south or west-facing window. The more light the better or it tends to drop leaves. Keep the soil evenly moist by checking the pot every few days. "The number one most common mistake with rosemary is underwatering," says Pollak. These plants are Mediterranean, but they don't like to dry out completely.

KEEP OR TOSS?

Keep!Move it outside as soon as your area is frost-free, typically sometime in May. Fertilize every few months with a slow-release pellet-type product, and let it grow naturally. You don't need to maintain the topiary or pyramidal shape unless you prefer it.

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Amaryllis
amaryllis christmas flower
Ikaroo

These exotic-looking flowers bloom about four to six weeks after you plant the bulb. Some varieties send up the flower first before the foliage.

HOW TO CARE FOR IT

Place in bright light, not hidden away on the coffee table where low light levels may cause it to grow floppy and topple. Turn the pot every few days to help the plant grow upright. Keep the soil evenly moist, but don't drown it.

KEEP OR TOSS?

Keep! Once the flowers fade, cut the stalk but keep the leaves to help replenish the nutrients in the bulb. Move outside in a shaded area when the danger of frost is past. In late summer or early fall, let the plant go dormant and place in the garage or basement. Cut off the yellowed leaves, and ignore it (no water!) until November when you begin watering and start the growing cycle again.

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Paperwhites
paperwhites christmas plant
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These often come in kits or loose bulbs with a planting medium. Pot them up and enjoy the fragrant blooms in two to three weeks.

HOW TO CARE FOR IT

Keep them in a cool but sunny location. Locations that are too warm cause leggy growth. As soon as the flowers emerge, tie the stems to a decorative stake to prevent them from toppling over. Water regularly so that the soil stays evenly moist.

KEEP OR TOSS?

Toss! They're inexpensive enough to buy again next year, and they're tropical so they can't be replanted outdoors.

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Phalaenopsis Orchid
christmas orchid
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These delicate-looking plants are not as fragile as they appear and will bloom for months with little care, says Pollak.

HOW TO CARE FOR IT

Give them bright, indirect light. They generally prefer it on the cooler side indoors. Avoid sudden temperature changes, which causes buds to drop. Water once a week until water comes out the bottom of the pot (they're usually planted in a soil-less planting medium).

KEEP OR TOSS?

Keep! Keep in a east or west window. Feed with a specific orchid fertilizer. Water regularly but in late summer, let the leaves dry out or wrinkle a bit to trigger the plant setting new buds. Once you see a new stem, start watering again but stop fertilizing.

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Norfolk Pine
norfolk pine christmas plant
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This long-lasting plant is native to the South Pacific so it cannot be planted outdoors in most of the country, says Pollak.

HOW TO CARE FOR IT

Keep it medium-bright light such as an east or west-facing window. It needs about six to eight hours of light per day. Light conditions that are too low may cause lower branches to drop. Water when dry to the touch, but don't let it dry out too much or you'll get loads of brown needles.

KEEP OR TOSS?

Keep! Every two years, refresh the planting medium by topdressing with new soil. It prefers to be pot-bound. You can take it outdoors in late spring if you like, but keep it shaded. Bring inside before temps drop lower than 40 degrees. Fertilize every 6 to 8 weeks with a standard fertilizer. Toss when it gets too leggy because it won't re-grow lower branches that are lost.

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Frosty Fern
frosty fern christmas plant
Courtesy of Miss Mustard Seed

These adorable tiny fern-like plants tinged with white are a newcomer to the holiday lineup. They're increasingly available at high-end grocers and nurseries.

HOW TO CARE FOR IT

Place in low to medium light. They prefer consistent humidity, so they do well in terrariums. Keep the soil slightly moist. Use room temperature, not cold, water. Water from below by placing in a saucer of water, letting it absorb for 15 minutes, the removing the plant.

KEEP OR TOSS?

Keep, if you're lucky. The plant is on the finicky side and often dies long before you get tired of it. No worries. Enjoy its delicate form as long as you can.

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