Expert Reveals – The Best Christmas Plants


The Director of Polhill Garden Centre, Josh Novell, has shared how to care for these popular Christmas plants.

Josh says, “Christmas plants bring a sense of festivity, joy and warmth to our living spaces during the holidays. Traditional holiday plants are an important part of many families’ holiday traditions. Each of these festive plants has its own special needs for care, including light, soil, water and temperature preferences that must be met in order to keep them healthy and looking their best. With a little knowledge and proper care, you can enjoy your traditional Christmas plants for many holiday seasons to come.”

1. Poinsettia

Poinsettia plants, with their bright red and green foliage, are a traditional Christmas favourite. You may also be pleased to know that they are easy to take care of!

To keep them looking their best, they should be placed in bright, indirect light away from drafts and cold temperatures. Water your poinsettia when the soil feels dry to the touch and avoid overwatering as this leads to root rot.

Caring for your poinsettia

  • If you want to grow poinsettias from seeds or cuttings, you need to start them in late winter or early spring. You can sow the seeds in pots of moist compost and keep them at a temperature of 18-21°C. You can take cuttings from a fully grown plant around May time.
  • They do not like draughts, cold areas, or even being near central heating. They thrive in an environment of constant, moderate temperatures.
  • They are native to Mexico, so they do not tend to survive the harsh UK winters outdoors. Your poinsettia is a lot more likely to survive indoors in a bright location.
  • You can prune your poinsettia plant lightly to keep it looking attractive and to remove any unruly growth.

How did the poinsettia become a Christmas plant?

The plant became a Christmas favourite in the early 1900s. The legend says that Pepita, a poor girl, had nothing to give baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. She gathered some weeds from the roadside and took them to the church. The weeds turned into red flowers, like the Star of Bethlehem.

2. English Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

Holly is a traditional Christmas plant often used to decorate the home during the holiday season. Its glossy green leaves and bright red berries are widely associated with the festivities of the winter season.

When caring for your Holly, you’ll want to choose a spot with good light conditions, as too little light can cause leaves to yellow and droop. You should also keep the soil moist but not too damp.

Caring for your Holly

  • You can get English Holly from seeds or cuttings. The seeds are inside the berries that the Holly makes in winter. Put the seeds in pots with wet compost and let them grow outside.
  • Holly is quite versatile and enjoys a mixture of soil that has added organic matter or if a slow-release fertiliser is added. The best times to fertilise holly are spring, late summer, or early Autumn, and water well post fertilising. You can reduce watering once the plant is established, but don’t let it dry out completely.
  • Holly can be grown indoors as a container plant or outdoors as a hedge plant and prefers slightly acidic soil. Holly is very hardy and can last several years with the proper care and maintenance.
  • Don’t forget that holly offcuts are used for many Christmas decorations such as wreaths, fireplace ornaments and much more, just ensure not to take more than a third of the plant’s foliage at a time!

How did Holly become a Christmas plant?

Some legends and stories say that Holly became a plant for Christmas because its green leaves and red berries showed life and hope in the cold season.

3. Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)

With its bright and colourful flowers that look like trumpets, Amaryllis is a plant that brings joy to any home in the winter months. It has big flowers in different colours, such as red, white or pink. 

Amaryllis enjoys warm and bright places, but not direct sunlight and prefers temperatures between 18°C-21°C.

Caring for your Amaryllis

  • To grow Amaryllis from a bulb, you should start in late winter or early spring. Plant the bulbs in pots with moist compost and keep them warm at 18-21°C. You may need to move them inside. Soak the amaryllis bulb and its roots in warm water for a few hours before planting. This will make them rehydrate and grow faster.
  • Pick a pot that is a bit bigger than the bulb and has holes for drainage. Put in some compost that drains well and is acidic.
  • Fertilise with a slow-release fertiliser once a month for healthy growth results and you should expect flowers from your plant within 8 weeks.

How did Amaryllis become a Christmas plant?

There is no definitive answer to how the Amaryllis became a Christmas plant and there are many theories. One theory is that Amaryllis has bright and colourful flowers that resemble trumpets, which are associated with joy and celebration.

4. Schlumbergera (Christmas Cactus)

Schlumbergera is a cactus that typically loves humid conditions. They do, however, not grow well in direct sunlight, as this will damage the plants and the leaves and their ideal temperature is 19-23°C.

The leaves are usually light green in colour and can have a pink or reddish tint when exposed to direct sunlight. The flowers of the Schlumbergera come in a variety of colours such as red, pink or white.

Caring for your Schlumbergera

  • Water it regularly but not too much, to keep the soil damp but not soggy. Fertilise twice a year with a balanced fertiliser once in spring and then again in late summer or early autumn.
  • To promote flowering, provide your plant with two resting phases: one following its late winter bloom and another in September. During these intervals, limit watering to occasional instances and maintain a temperature range of 12-15°C.
  • Schlumbergera requires a well-drained potting mix that is rich in organic matter, such as peat moss and bark chips. The plant also needs to be repotted every 2-3 years, as the roots tend to fill up the pot over time.
  • It is best to prune the flower after flowering is over and remove any damaged stems or any part of the plant that has brown discolouration.

How did Schlumbergera become a Christmas plant?

A special plant was found in Brazil in the 1800s, and it has a story that is related to the work of a Jesuit priest who wanted to teach the people of Bolivia about Christmas. He asked God for a sign to show them what Christmas meant. He was surprised when, on the night before Christmas, children gave him branches of Schlumbergera with beautiful flowers on them. This plant, with its bright flowers, became a sign of hope and joy for the priest and the native people.

5. Winter Honeysuckle

Winter honeysuckle is a shrub that can reach a height of 5-6 feet. It has light green, glossy leaves and small, fragrant white flowers that appear during the winters in December and January. It is native to China and has been cultivated for its fragrant flowers since ancient times.

It does not tolerate extreme temperatures, so it is best to keep it out of direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day.

Caring for your Winter Honeysuckle

  • You should opt for placing your Winter Honeysuckle in a sunny or partially shaded location, preferably with the roots in the shade and the stems in the sun, to encourage flower growth. While it’s adaptable to various soil types, it thrives in well-drained soil that is not too damp.
  • You can grow winter honeysuckle outside in the UK, as it is a strong plant that can handle cold and frost. But you might need to look after it more or keep it safe if the winter is very bad. You can put a lot of mulch, straw, or fleece around the bottom of the plant to keep the roots warm.
  • Prune your honeysuckle after flowering, usually in late winter or early spring.
  • Offer structural support for your honeysuckle to grow, such as a trellis, fence, wall, or pergola. As the stems grow, gently fasten them to the support structure and guide their growth to envelop the intended space.

How did Winter Honeysuckle become a Christmas plant?

The plant is considered a “harbinger of spring” and a symbol of hope and joy, and the winter honeysuckle became a Christmas plant because of its flowering time in the Northern Hemisphere, which coincides with the Christmas season.


Polhill Garden Centre

Photo by Eva Bronzini:

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