When it comes to decorating your home or grabbing a quick gift, flowering indoor plants provide long-lasting color and convenience with a wide selection to suit any style. Keep in mind that most flowering plants have a fairly short bloom time and may be difficult to get to rebloom. It’s best to treat them as temporary décor—don’t try to save them once they no longer bring you joy!
Poinsettias are a classic way to transform a space into a festive wonderland or say “Happy Holidays” with a living gift. The most popular flowering indoor plant sold in the U.S., poinsettias are native to Mexico and are available in red, white, burgundy, pink, and even multicolored varieties.
Light: Bright, indirect light; no direct sun. Avoid letting leaves touch cold window glass.
Water: Best kept evenly moist, but not wet. Allow top 50% of the soil to dry before watering. Do not allow plant to sit in water—if plant feels heavy, wait several days until it feels lighter before watering. Remove plastic/foil wrap and avoid getting the leaves wet, which can cause spotting.
Fertilizer: Not necessary when poinsettia is flowering.
Temperature: Very sensitive to cold; do not put outside. Ideal indoor temp is 65–70°F during the day and around 60°F at night. Keep away from drafty doors/windows, fireplaces, heaters, etc.
Pests & Diseases: Avoid overwatering to prevent disease. Monitor for pests such as whiteflies, fungus gnats, mealy bugs and spider mites.
Flowering: The most colorful part of a poinsettia are the leaves, which turn shades of red or develop dramatic patterns as the plant blooms. The flowers are tiny yellow buds in the center that slowly open over time. For longest display time, select plants with mostly closed flower buds.
Toxicity: Mildly poisonous; may cause vomiting or drooling in pets/children if ingested. Milky, white sap is very bitter and can cause redness, itching, or irritation on skin. “Kalsettias” are seasonal arrangements of flowering kalanchoes and poinsettias. Kalanchoes are very toxic to pets; avoid if you have a pet that may be tempted to sample them!
Zygocactus (Christmas/Thanksgiving Cactus)
Christmas Cactus plants are easy to care for and can live for 100 years! They produce tubular flowers in white, pink, red, yellow, salmon, and fuchsia. Not actually true cacti, these plants are epyphites and are part of the Zygocactus group, joined by Thanksgiving and Easter cactus, each blooming around their namesake holiday.
Light: Bright, indirect light; no direct sun. Medium/low light is okay, but may cause flower buds to drop off or even prevent them from blooming.
Water: Allow top 50% of the soil to dry before watering; reduce watering after blooms fade. Buds will fall off if too dry, and root rot is caused by overwatering.
Fertilizer: Provide ½ strength, liquid, all-purpose food in spring and summer, about twice monthly; stop feeding after September. Plants love leftover tea as well.
Temperature: To set flower buds, plants need cool daytime temps of 60–65°F and even cooler temps of 45–55°F at night. Once buds have developed, Christmas Cactus prefer warmer temperatures of 70–75°F during the day and about 10°F cooler at night—cool temperatures between 65°F and 70°F help Christmas Cactus flowers last longer.
Flowering: Correct temperature is important for a Christmas Cactus to produce flowers; blooms develop when days are short and temperatures are low. Starting in early fall (8–10 weeks before the holidays), place Christmas Cactus in total darkness for 12 hours per day. Keeping the plant in a cool area helps the flowers form by Christmas Day. After it has finished blooming, water less often so the soil dries out more. Allow plant to rest a few weeks, then cut off a few segments from each stem—pruning a Christmas Cactus shortly after it has finished flowering helps the plant become bushy and full; the segments you cut off can be used to propagate new plants.
Pests & Diseases: Watch for mealy bugs and scale. Avoid overwatering to prevent root rot.
Soil & Pot Size: Rich, acidic, well-draining soil. Keep slightly root-bound for best flowering. Only repot in spring, never during bloom.
Toxicity: Christmas cactus are non-poisonous.
Amaryllis are tropical bulbs that bloom in the winter indoors with dramatically large, trumpet-shaped flowers on tall, sturdy stems. Bloom colors range from red and pink to white or bi-colored depending on the variety.
Potting: Soak dry roots in luke-warm water 1–2 hours before planting (not necessary, but may hasten growth process). Place 2 inches of potting soil in bottom of pot. Amaryllis bulbs like to sit with ⅓ of bulb above soil line, so place bulb and gently pack soil between roots; should be about 1 inch of soil between bulb and edge of pot—tight fit preferred.
Light & Location: Bright, indirect light is ideal, but medium light is fine too. Rotate so plant grows straight (not bending towards light). Rapidly growing plants may need to be staked to remain straight, but be careful not to pierce bulb with the stake.
Watering: Water once after you first pot up Amaryllis bulb, then sparingly until sprout is well out of the bulb (2–3 inches). Then water regularly and you will soon see spectacular blooms, 4–6 per stalk, 2–3 stalks depending on bulb size. It can take 6–12 weeks to produce a flower. Warm, sunny conditions can speed things up, but once the bud opens, it can be moved to a cooler spot indoors to slow it down and be enjoyed for a longer time.
Aftercare: When blooms fade, cut off tubular flower stem near top of bulb, leaving foliage to continue growing. Water as usual; apply water-soluble fertilizer every 4 weeks. Once danger of frost is past, move Amaryllis bulb outdoors to enjoy summer sun. Continue fertilizer program every 4 weeks; necessary for next round of indoor forcing. In early autumn (late September or early October), bring Amaryllis inside and allow to completely dry out (can take several weeks). Cut off dry leaves and let “rest” for 6 weeks. Repot in new soil and start process all over again!
Toxicity: Amaryllis bulbs make great gifts, are easy to grow, and are rewarding for all ages and skill levels, but all parts of the plant are toxic and should be kept away from kids/pets.
Paperwhites are a type of narcissus that can be grown indoors without a chilling period. Each bulb will produce several flower stalks and bloom with a cluster of small, white, star-shaped flowers that are highly fragrant and usually last a few weeks.
Potting: Paperwhites can be grown without going through a cold storage period. Fill pot halfway with soil, rocks, or pebbles. Set bulb(s) gently in soil and pack more soil around bulbs, leaving tips visible. If using rocks, leave ⅓ of bulb uncovered.
Light & Location: Once they begin to grow, place in window sill or area that receives plenty of light. Planting paperwhites every 10–14 days allows continued profusion of blooms throughout winter season. Store unplanted bulbs in cool, dry place that doesn’t freeze. If plants must be staked, consider cutting branches from garden (red twig dogwood, curly willow, Japanese maple).
Watering: Water bulbs thoroughly, allowing time for soil to absorb enough water to be thoroughly soaked. If using non-draining containers or planting in rocks, add water until it reaches bottom of bulbs (never cover bulbs; they will rot). Strongly scented flowers should form 4–6 weeks after potting and bloom for 10–14 days indoors. Keep water level at root level in rock plantings or evenly moist in soil. For shorter and sturdier plants, leave in cooler place 1–2 weeks right after planting so they form roots before much top growth; a garage/garden shed 45–55 °F works great.
Aftercare: Although they are a type of Narcissus (daffodil), they are not considered hardy outdoors in our climate and should be composted after they finish blooming.
Toxicity: All members of the Narcissus family are considered toxic and should be kept away from children and pets.
Common Issues: A common problem with paperwhites is that they often grow too tall and flop over. Recent research conducted by the Flower Bulb Research Program at Cornell University has found a simple and effective way to reduce stem and leaf growth—using diluted solutions of alcohol. When properly used, the result is paperwhites that are one third to one half shorter, with equal sized flowers that last as long as normal.
We suggest planting your paperwhite bulbs in stones, gravel, marbles, glass beads, etc. as usual. Add water as you normally would, then wait about 1 week until roots are growing, and the shoot is green and growing about 1–2 inches above the top of the bulb. At this point, pour off the water and replace it with a solution of 4–6% alcohol, made from just about any hard liquor. As an example, to get a 5% solution from a 40% distilled spirit (e.g., gin, vodka, whiskey, rum, tequila), add 1 part booze to 7 parts water. This is an 8-fold dilution yielding 5% alcohol. Then, simply use this solution instead of water for further watering of your bulbs!
Do not use beer or wine, as the sugars in them will cause major problems with the plants. As with humans, paperwhites can also suffer alcohol overdoses! We suggest 4-6% alcohol as a normal and safe range. If plants are given much more than 10% alcohol, growth problems will start, and 25% alcohol is dramatically toxic. Moderation is key! If you do not have alcohol for consumption in your household, rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) works just as well. Since this is usually 70% alcohol when purchased, a dilution of 1 part rubbing alcohol to 10 or 11 parts water is appropriate. This approach causes the plant to suffer a slight lack of water, enough to reduce leaf and stem growth, but not enough to affect flower size or flower longevity… cool, huh?