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Grow an Evergreen Thumb: Tips to Keep Plants Alive After the Holidays

Lucy Mercer
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Evergreens, citrus and blooming bulbs make wonderful gifts for gardeners during the holidays, but when the carols have faded and the decorations are back in the attic, keeping the plants alive will be a test of your green thumb.

Most plants will need to be treated as houseplants until spring, then transitioned into the garden.

Evergreens like rosemary and Norfolk pine make charming stand-ins for Christmas trees but present challenges as houseplants. Poinsettias can be nursed through the winter indoors and then planted outside.

Amaryllis bulbs can be forced into bloom again next Christmas after a summer in the garden followed by a two-month dormant spell.

Here are our favorite Christmas plants and how to care for them after the holidays.

The promise of homegrown citrus like Meyer lemons, kumquats and oranges makes dwarf citrus trees a popular gift for gardeners. These trees can be successfully grown as houseplants, but they need adequate sunlight and humidity.

The minimum daily light requirement of eight to 12 hours can be difficult in winter, even in the sunniest of climates and homes. We recommend grow lights. To keep humidity levels appropriate, misting is helpful.

Citrus trees thrive in temps between 55 and 85 degrees. They can tolerate brief exposure to extreme highs and lows, as long as there is adequate water and they are otherwise healthy plants.

Piney rosemary shrubs shaped into Christmas trees are a go-to gift for cooks and gardeners. Out of all the holiday plants, rosemary is the best bet to provide you with years of enjoyment.

Evergreen rosemary can take temps down to 20 degrees. If your winters are mild, choose a sunny location, preferably by a driveway or walkway to enjoy its fragrant boughs. Or, pot it in a roomy container filled with a good-draining potting mix.

While the plant is being established, it’s a good idea to keep it out of cold winds. Rosemary loves afternoon sun.

North of Zone 8, keep rosemary as a houseplant in a sunny room with low humidity.

To prevent root rot, fill the plant saucer with rocks. Touch the soil every day or so and only water when the soil is dry. After the last frost in the spring, repot the rosemary and place it outside to soak up some sun during the warm months.

Despite their hardy looks, Norfolk Island pines are tropical plants from the South Pacific. They are grown as container trees in North America, but in their native habitat, they can reach up to 80 feet tall.

Be sure the container for your Norfolk pine has proper drainage. It’s also a good idea to place it in a saucer filled with rocks so that the roots stay dry. Let soil dry between waterings.

The trees prefer cool room temperatures of about 65 degrees during the day and no lower than 50 degrees at night. They don’t like drafts. Place near a large sunny window.

In the spring, when nighttime temps are consistently above 50, move the Norfolk Island pine outside to a shaded patio.

Keep Your Holiday Plants Alive

Poinsettias are native to Mexico, and if you garden in a similar frost-free area, the bright blooms can be grown outside. In colder climates, poinsettia can be nursed through the winter then planted outside as sun-loving annuals.

While indoors, keep near a sunny window and away from drafts. Water when the soil is dry. Plant poinsettias outside after all danger of frost.

Christmas cactus and other succulents only ask for bright but indirect light and occasional watering. Let the soil dry out between waterings and make sure the plant doesn’t sit in water; that will promote root rot.

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Paperwhites are good for just one season, and you can compost spent blooms without guilt. Amaryllis will go dormant and can be moved outside as annuals or forced into bloom again next fall. After flowers fade, cut stems an inch from the base of the bulb. Water as needed and apply household fertilizer monthly until midsummer. At the end of summer, stop watering and let bulbs rest for a couple of months before forcing again.

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