Christmas Cactus

During bloom, keep Christmas cactus in bright, indirect light in a cool room and let dry slightly between watering. (Photo: Shutterstock).

Carol O'Meara, Colorado State University Extension

Carol O’Meara, Colorado State University Extension

LONGMONT – Celebrating the dark days of winter includes bringing in a few houseplants, and stores are filled with holiday foliage. Pick up a poinsettia – they’re a treat for the eyes – then look at some of the other festive indoor plants. Small pines, aromatic mini-trees and flowering cacti are the perfect touch for your décor.

When the tag says “place in bright indirect light,” it means closely in front of, but not touching, an east or west facing window or one foot away from a south facing window. For direct light, place it closer to the south window.

For longest bloom, keep in a cool room, with nighttime temperatures of 55 to 60 degrees; during the day, set the thermostat between 65 and 68. These cooler temps will keep blooms lasting longer.

Feed with a balanced fertilizer.  Most houseplant food is 20-20-20, but many winter bloomers only need a half-strength solution until later in spring, when robust growth starts up again. Check the tag for feeding instructions before dosing the plant with too much fertilizer.

Then follow these quick tips for taking care of different holiday plants:

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary plants are small, evergreen, aromatic, edible additions to your home. Resembling small fir trees, the dark green foliage is used in cooking. How to care for: In stores, rosemary is often root-bound, so if you want to keep them long after the holidays, transplant them into a pot at least twice as big as soon as you get them home. Use light, loose, potting soil, then soak the newly planted pot in a few inches of water for an hour to get it saturated. Location: Rosemary prefers a cool, sunny location with high humidity; place them on pebble filled saucers filled with water to increase moisture around the plant.  Frequent misting is also helpful.  Keep the soil on the dry side and water once the soil is dry to the depth of your first finger knuckle.

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii)
Christmas cactus, a succulent, can be told apart from its cousin, the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata), by its rounded “teeth” on the leaves (Thanksgiving cacti have pointed teeth). How to care for: During bloom, keep in bright, indirect light in a cool room and let dry slightly between watering. If the leaves wrinkle and flowers fall, the plant is too dry or too warm. Feed: Once bloom is finished, fertilize once per month from April through October.

Norfolk Island pines (Araucaria heterophylla)
Norfolk Island pines, are small evergreens with soft foliage. How to care for: These little trees, native to the South Pacific, will not survive our Colorado weather so keep them indoors in bright light and out of direct afternoon sun. Take care not to let it dry out in our low-humidity homes. Water when the top inch of soil feels dry, discarding water that collects in the catch pan. Feed: From April through June, use half-strength fertilizer twice per month. Feed monthly for the rest of the year. Tip: For healthy, bright foliage, mist with water twice per week for healthy, bright foliage.

Christmas pepper (Capsicum spp.)
How to care for: Moist soil and full sun keeps the foliage lasting, but for glossy, plump fruit, place this plant in a room with cool temperatures. This annual is finished when all the fruit drops off, so compost it when the display is over. Tip: If the oils from handling get into eyes or on skin, this pepper can be irritating. Choose a visible but out of the way area for this plant to keep kids and pets safe from its sting.

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.)
How to care for: Choose a spot with bright, indirect light and keep the soil moist but not soggy.  Deadhead spent flowers soon after they fade, and continue to care for the bulb after blooming is finished – Amaryllis will rebloom year
after year. 
Feed: After the shoot appears from the bulb, feed twice per month.

By Carol O’Meara, Colorado State University Extension. Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Colorado State University Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, e-mail [email protected] or visit

Editor’s Note: Carol O’Meara’s column also publishes in the Daily Camera on Wednesday.