Home Cactus, amaryllis better choice than poinsettia for holiday gift giving

Cactus, amaryllis better choice than poinsettia for holiday gift giving

Crystal Graham
christmas cactus
(© bozhena_melnyk – stock.adobe.com)

For plant lovers, decorating for the holidays includes adding a poinsettia, cacti or amaryllis to your décor. Taking care of these festive plants can extend their life and bloom time so you get the most out of these plants.

When transporting holiday plants from the store to your home, be sure they are protected from cold as even short trips in cold temperatures can cause cold damage.

For gift-giving, choose a plant with longevity, such as a holiday cactus or an amaryllis bulb, which will last and produce flowers for multiple years.

“It’s very difficult and time-consuming to get poinsettias you have saved to flower for a second year,” said Ed Olsen, a Henrico Cooperative Extension agent. “They need complete darkness every evening from the beginning of October to the middle of November, which means you’re moving them around multiple times a day. It’s usually not worth it.”


Poinsettias should be kept at temperatures between 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Placing near temperature extremes, such as by a cold window or in front of a warm fireplace, will shorten their lifespan. Poinsettias should be kept well-watered – but not overwatered – and care should be taken to ensure water isn’t pooling inside any decorative wrapping on the outside of the pot.

“When choosing poinsettias, you want to look for plants with the yellow true flower in the center of the bract,” said Olsen. “Many times, especially after they have been sitting out in big-box stores, the true flower will drop off which means those plants won’t last as long.”


Holiday cacti should be kept slightly cooler, from 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and soil should not be allowed to dry out during flowering. However, during non-blooming periods, the soil should dry between waterings. Keep holiday cacti out of direct sunlight but in bright, indoor light.

Popular winter-blooming holiday cacti include the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumgera truncate), which has sharp, claw-shaped projects along leaf edges, and the Christmas cactus (Schlumgera bridgesti) which has more rounded or scalloped leaf projections. Both species need at least 12 hours of darkness and cool temperatures to bloom.


Although not as popular as poinsettias or holiday cacti, amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus bulbs make great winter plants. Forcing, or getting a plant to bloom out of season, an amaryllis bulb takes four to six weeks, but paperwhites can be forced in as little as three weeks.

“The joy of amaryllis is that you can get up to three weeks out of a flower,” said Olsen. “You can give amaryllis as a holiday gift even if the recipient doesn’t have time for it to bloom for Christmas. It’s still a great gift because they can enjoy the bloom later in January.”

To learn more about gardening or join a community group of other passionate gardeners, contact your local Master Gardener unit by searching for your county on the Virginia Cooperative Extension website.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.

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