These Christmas plants will have your home full of color, beauty and good cheer this year. Even though the outdoor garden season has ended for many of us, that doesn’t mean that holiday plants can’t be front and center right now.
December 12 is National Poinsettia Day. It is fitting that the most popular Christmas plant is included in my list of 26 other plants to decorate for the holidays.
It’s time to deck the halls, trim the Christmas tree, and hang some mistletoe for kissing. The list of flowers and holiday plants for Christmas is long and colorful. There is a plant or flower for all gardening tastes.
These 27 Xmas plants are used for decorating for the holidays, not only in the USA, but throughout Europe, as well.
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Are Christmas plants tropical?
You may be surprised to learn that most holiday plants that are used as plants to decorate for Christmas are tropical plants. While it is our custom to enjoy them in our homes when the weather is cold and snowy, most of them are more at home in the tropics in their native habitats.
This means that caring for these Xmas plants is more like caring for a indoor plant than a garden plant. Treat them as tender plants and be sure to keep them out of cold drafts, and these plants for Christmas will add cheer and color to your home all season long.
Indoor Christmas plants and flowers bring so much joy to our homes during the holidays. Just because they are labeled tropical plants, does not mean that they’ll end up on the compost pile when Christmas is over.
Many holiday plants can thrive for years as indoor plants with the right conditions and care. Why not try a new variety this year?
List of common Christmas plants
The first group of 12 holiday plants are those that you are likely to see in major retailers, at your local farmers market or at specialty shops during the holidays.
Nothing is quite as exotic looking in the cold days of December as the huge red flowers of a forced amaryllis bulb. The exotic flowers will last for 4 to six weeks and the bulb is very easy to force, often growing inches in a single day!
Use this plant as the focus of a centerpiece. The red or white color is typically sold as a Christmas plant but amaryllis also comes in pink, and orange. You can find them with striped or solid colored petals.
Be sure to support the flower stem, since the blooms are heavy and prone to topple over.
Since the bulbs are so easy to force each year there is no reason to throw this one away. Once frost danger is past, move it outside let it enjoy the warm weather.
Santiago variety has pretty red and white striped petals that are very festive at Christmas.
In fall each year, let it go dormant in a garage , dark cool room or basement, then cut off the yellow leaves, and stop watering until November. Once you start watering the growth cycle will start again and you’ll have the pretty blooms in time for Christmas.
Find out more about growing and forcing amaryllis bulbs here.
Christmas cactus plant
This traditional plant is native to Brazil. Christmas cactus – schlumbergera buckleyi – is one of several similar looking succulent plants that have pretty pendulous flowers on the end of joined succulent leaves.
The Christmas cactus plant gets its name because of its red or pink flowers which bloom in late December in the Northern Hemisphere.
Only cold hardy in zones 9-11, Christmas cactus is grown as a houseplant in most parts of the USA.
The flowers look very much like those of the Thanksgiving cactus.
Christmas cactus plants are seen in many retailers during the holidays and the same plant can last, and flower, for many decades in the right conditions.
The trick to getting the plant to flower is shorter days and darker conditions. This happens naturally in its native habitat. Find out more about growing Christmas cactus here.
Another plant from this family that looks very similar to the Christmas cactus is the Thanksgiving cactus – schlumbergera truncata syn. zygocactus truncata. The flowers also look quite similar, and although its bloom time is late November, it is often seen in flower at Christmas time.
Many of the plants sold in retail stores as a Christmas cactus are actually the Thanksgiving cactus. In fact one of its common names is false Christmas cactus!
There are a few minor differences between the two plants but the main one is the shape of the leaves. Thanksgiving cactus leaves are very pointed with claw shaped projections which resemble crab claws and those of a Christmas cactus are more rounded. Find out more about growing a Thanksgiving cactus here.
This is one of the plants for Christmas that doesn’t mind slightly lower temperatures. They can tolerate temps into the 40s F. This makes them desirable in cooler months and very popular during the holidays.
Another benefit of cyclamen is that it will bloom for up to 2 months at a time in the right conditions. Indirect light is best. Avoid drafts to keep the plant flowering and deadhead flowers that are past their best to encourage more bloom.
These delicate looking plants are actually quite robust. Choose a red or white one for the Christmas holidays and you will end up with months of bloom time.
Give orchids bright, indirect light in a cool spot with even temperature. Summer temperature changes will cause the flower buds to drop.
Phalaenopsis orchids, also known as ice cube orchids, or moth orchids, are tropical plants, but very easy to grow indoors.
This plant is definitely one to keep after the holidays are over! Choose a sunny window location and feed with orchid fertilizer.
New flower spikes are induced when the temperatures drop to the mid 50s F. Be sure to water well when new stems appear and you will be on your way to new blooms. Plants are happiest is they are kept above 60° F.
Find out more about growing phalaenopsis orchids here.
It is no surprise to see mistletoe included in any list of holiday plants. Legend even says that if you refuse a kiss, you’ll be cursed with bad luck!
Who hasn’t been to a party where someone has a sprig of mistletoe that they hold over other guest’s heads in hope of a lingering Christmas kiss? This kissing plant has been associated with romance since the 18th century.
Surprisingly, the mistletoe plant is actually a parasitic plant, since it makes its home clinging to other plants and trees for support.
There are two types of mistletoe – European mistletoe (viscum album), and its counterpart in North America – Eastern Mistletoe (phoradendron serotinum).
In spite of its parasitic nature, the plant has become associated with romance and kissing during the Christmas holidays. It’s not always been the case though. This plant was forbidden at one point by early Christian churches in the UK because of its association with Druids.
Natural mistletoe is only cold hardy in zones 9 to 10 so you are unlikely to find live plants in colder areas, but many retailers sell branches or sprigs of fresh mistletoe around the holidays.
Find out more about the history of mistletoe here.
Poinsettia plant – the most popular Christmas plant
Hailing from Mexico, and also grown in parts of Central America, is the colorful Christmas poinsettia plant – euphorbia pulcherrrima.
The plant has what looks like a series of poinsettia flowers but they are not actually flowers at all. These vibrant petals are called bracts and they look like enormous flowers.
The most common color is red, which we see everywhere at Christmas time. But this showy plant also comes in pink, yellow and mottled colors and some hybrids even have stripes.
Poinsettias are only cold hardy in zones 10 and 11. The plant does not like warm or cold drafts and letting it sit in a draft can cause petal drop. Be sure to keep them away from windows, fans, air vents and radiators.
Keep your poinsettia in a room or setting where the temperatures do not drop below 50 degrees.
Take care when bringing this plant home. It is not one to leave in the car when it’s snowing if you are running errands! At the end of the season, it will take some care to rebloom next year.
In spring remove the bracts, and give good light and fertilizer. In the fall, bring it to a room where it gets no natural light after sunset. With some luck it will bloom again for you at Xmas.
Christmas Rose (Lenten rose)
Who is surprised that a plant which has flowers that may emerge from the snow in December will be included in a list of plants for Christmas? Not me, for sure!
The Christmas Rose – helleborus niger – is also known as Lenten Rose, since other varieties flower about the time of Lent – still long before most gardens are blooming.
The attractive white or pink flowers appear in December and many retailers have it for sale in their garden centers when nothing else is in bloom. If you are lucky enough to find one, snap it up.
This pretty plant looks nothing like the traditional garden rose. Its common name comes from an old legend.
According to the European legend, the Christmas rose was discovered by a shepherdess named Madelon. As she watched the Wise Men and shepherds marching past her on her way to see the Christ Child, she felt sad at not having a gift for the baby.
An angel appeared and brushed away the snow to reveal a dainty Christmas rose blooming. Madelon gathered up the blossoms as her gift for the Christ Child.
Hellebores are cold hardy in zones 4-9, so you will be able to plant it in the ground in your garden as a perennial which will come back year after year.
Find out more about growing hellebores here.
Holly – So useful for Christmas decorating
There are many types of holly that make the list of plants for Xmas. The reason is that its red berries often ripen in winter.
It’s not likely that you will find holly – ilex species – for sale as a Christmas plant. Holly can grow up to 50 feet tall, and the prickly branches of a holly bush aren’t exact a good choice for indoor Christmas decorating.
However, it is included in the list of holiday plants because of its waxy foliage and red berries. Small sprigs of holly, or holly wreaths can be used in all sorts of ways to adorn your home.
Holly is native to both Europe and North America and is hardy to USDA zone 5. Only the female varieties will produce the bright red berries.
No mention of holly for Christmas would be complete without also talking about the ivy plant, too.
Remember the first lines to the traditional British Christmas carol “The holly and the ivy?”
The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.
Even though holly plants are not normally displayed in the home as indoor Christmas plants, this is not the case with ivy – hedera helix! An English ivy in a decorative planter would make a lovely Xmas gift, and you can definitely display it inside.
Both holly and ivy have been used as winter decorations since ancient times. Many thought that holly and ivy would ward off evil spirits that came with the howling winds on dark, winter nights.
The lovely, fragrant blooms of paperwhites are another bulb that can be easily forced for Christmas. Many stores sell them in kits or as loose bulbs with a light planting medium.
Place them in pots and enjoy the blooms in just a few weeks.
Keep paperwhites in a sunny location. Keep the temperature on the cooler side to prevent leggy growth. Be sure to stake the stems when the flowers appear to keep them upright.
While paperwhites look much like a daffodil which will over winter easily, they are a tropical bulb and can’t be planted outdoors unless you live in the warmer zones – 8 to 10.
This is one to throw on the compost pile, since the bulbs are inexpensive and easy to grow from new next fall.
Find out more about forcing paperwhites here.
This succulent comes in many bright colors and flowers for weeks on end during the holidays. The plant is easy to care for, easy to propagate and will rebloom the following year with little extra care.
Florist kalanchoe, – kalanchoe blossfeldiana – comes into its own when many other plants are going dormant.
This pretty indoor plant shows up each year covered in blooms ready to open. It is found in big box stores and at florists when it is cold outside and nothing much else is in flower. It is sure to bring a pop of color indoors.
Florist kalanchoe is a tropical plant which is very sensitive to cold and can chill easily.
It is best to keep the temperatures near the plant above 50° F. The idea temperature range is 65-75° F.
Less well known Christmas plants
While the above plants are the ones most commonly seen just before Christmas, the list does not stop here. There are many other plants which have an association to the holidays because of their colors or because of legends that link them.
Why not try growing one of these plants for a change this year?
If you are bored with the tried and true plants for Christmas, try frosty fern – Selaginella kraussiana ‘Variegata’. This pretty like fern-like plant is a relative new comer to the holiday plant lineup.
Frosty fern is native to tropical African areas.
Frosty fern likes it best when the temperatures are consistently between 60° and 80° F. Much hotter or colder than this and it will start to suffer. It also likes 77% to 88% humidity but does not like to be misted.
Ornamental kale and cabbage
Vegetables as plants for Xmas? By Christmas time, most vegetable gardens have been put to bed. However, two cold hardy plants take the cold in stride. Ornamental cabbage and ornamental kale are the decorative variety of two edible cold hardy vegetables.
You can eat these decorative plants, but they’re not very tasty. This is because they have been bred for their looks and not their flavor. Instead of growing these for their taste, try decorating with them!
Ornamental kale has frilly or crinkled leaf edges. Like ornamental cabbage, it is a biennial plant – meaning it will last two years – but is normally grown as an annual.
Flowering cabbage is similar in color, size and appearance to ornamental kale. The main difference is that the cabbage leaves have smooth edges instead of crinkly ones.
You can expect ornamental kale and cabbage to last through the winter in most parts of the country, although they will not survive below -5° F.
These ornamental plants will lose their bright colors when the weather warms up in the spring and will get leggy then.
Both ornamental cabbage and ornamental kale are cold hardy in zones 2 to 11.
While not the typical Christmas colors, ornamental kale and cabbage have unique foliage that looks great displayed along traditional Christmas decor.
Fittonia albivenis is a compact little houseplant with dark green leave which have pinkish red veins covering the leaves. The plant is a native of Peru and has a trailing habit that makes them a good choice in hanging baskets.
The plant comes in many color varieties, from white and green, to pink and white and red and green. Its colors makes it the perfect plant for Xmas.
It is a tropical plant only hardy in zones 11 and above. Two other common names are mosaic plant and pink angel.
Find out more about growing fittonia albivenis here.
Head to your local florist to find one of these. They are often on display with red flowers at Christmas time.
Their fresh blooms will continue flowering throughout the holidays.
One variety to look out for is the Christmas Cheer azalea – rhododendron simsii. I’ve heard that it is Rudolph’s favorite! Its cheery pinkish-red and snowy white blossoms flower for many weeks!
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Check out these red Christmas plants
It is no surprise to anyone that red and green are the colors of Christmas. They were first associated with the winter solstice but once Santa started appearing in magazine ads all decked out in red, the color has remained as the traditional Christmas color.
Although these plants are not as readily available as the traditional group of Xmas plants, it is worth trying to find them because of their color. Check out these plants known for their pretty red blooms.
This tropical plant is at home in both sunny spots and lower light locations. Either way, you will get the unique red blooms that are perfect for using as an Xmas plant.
Anthurium likes to be misted so the humidity level stays high and the vibrant blossoms will stay around for weeks on end. The red and green color is right at home in the midst of your Christmas decorations.
Most large garden centers and big box stores sell anthurium plants
Find out more about how to grow anthuriums here.
Candy Cane Sorrell
The trumpet shaped leaves of candy cane sorrell – oxalis versicolor – are as much a part of Christmas plants for decorating as candy canes on a Christmas tree are.
After all, the blooms are named after the traditional holiday sweet. It is one of the few Xmas plants that are considered a perennial.
Grow this perennial in full sun or partial shade. A sunny window by your front door will welcome all guests in a cheery manner.
Candy cane sorrel is native to capes of South Africa. This attractive red and white striped variety is a member of the oxalis family. It is cold hardy in zones 7-9.
This gorgeous bromeliad is one that I first discovered a few years ago. Its botanical name is neoregelia tricolor perfecta. The common name “blushing bromeliad” comes from the deep red center of its variegated leaves. It has the perfect colors for Christmas!
This delicate bromeliad likes shade to filtered light – ideally in an east or west facing window. Ideal temperature is above 60° F. Too much sunlight will make the red color bleach out and you will end up with just the variegated green color.
Bromeliads have a cup in their center which is useful for storing rainwater in their natural habitat. Use this to your advantage by keeping the cup about 1/4 full. To avoid bacteria growing, throw out the water every 2 weeks and refill.
Only cold hardy in zones 10 and above.
Red Prayer Plant
Prayer plant – maranta leuconeura – got its common name because its leaves fold up at night. The most often seen variety is mainly green in color, but there is a variety with red veins in the leaves that looks wonderful as a holiday plant.
This type is known as maranta erythroneura. it is sometimes known as the herringbone plant because of the pattern of its prominent red leaf veins and dark green and yellow leaves.
Prayer plants like bright, indirect light and also grows well under fluorescent light. To keep the deep red color, be sure to keep plant out of direct sunlight. If this is too strong, it will cause the red veins to fade.
Rec prayer plant likes temperatures between 68-85° F during the day and above 55° F at night.
Most holly plants are known for their waxy green evergreen leaves and red berries. Not so with winterberry holly!
Winterberry holly – ilex verticillata – is a wetland holly that loses its leaves in autumn. This makes its show of red berries all the more bright.
After the leaves turn yellow and fall off, the homemaker is left with thousands of brightly colored berries that cling to each of the stems.
It is a joy to see this much color outside in the middle of winter under a blanket of snow.
The outdoor Christmas plant gets large. It can grow up to 15 feet tall.
If you are fortunate enough to live in zones 7-10, try growing Yuletide camellias.
This compactly shrub has glossy, dark green leaves which are evergreen. During the cooler months, bright red blooms with yellow stamens formed just in time for the holidays.
This is an outdoor Christmas plant. You’ll need room for them to grow. They can reach 8-10 feet in height!
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Different types of trees to use as Christmas plants
It used to be that most homes were decorated with pine, spruce or fir trees for the holidays. While this is still the case, there are also a few other trees that you can use to hand your ornaments from.
These are becoming more often seen in big box stores as the years go by.
Rosemary is a common kitchen herb that is often used in recipes in the fall. During the winter months, you will often see it for sale as a holiday plant, pruned as a topiary into a pyramid shape to mimic a Christmas tree.
Rosemary was included in the Nativity story. It is said that Baby Jesus’ clothes were dried on a rosemary bush. Many believe that smelling rosemary at Christmas brings good luck.
You can prune rosemary plants you have growing at home into a Christmas tree shape in late summer and enjoy them indoors as a herb in the fall, and then as a mini Christmas tree as the holidays progress.
Rosemary is one of the more cold hardy herbs and can take temperatures below 30° F outdoors.
Indoors, keep it in a bright south or west facing window. It will drop its leaves if the light is too low.
Find out more about growing rosemary here.
Definitely keep this one after the holidays. I grow rosemary year round in my zone 7b garden. It overwinters beautifully.
Norfolk Island Pine
This plant is native to the South Pacific area, so you won’t be able to plant it outdoors after Christmas in most areas of the USA. However, it you are looking for a live Christmas tree to enjoy indoors for the holidays instead of a cut real tree, this might be it!
You’ll want to stick to light weight ornaments, since the branches tend to get weighed down quite easily.
Keep Norfolk Island pine in a situation with bright light. South or west facing windows are best. It will need 6-8 hours of light each day to prosper. IF the light is too low, you will end up having the lower branches dropping.
Don’t let it dry out too much or the lower branches will dry up. If this happens, they won’t grow back.
Add new soil every two years by topdressing. Norfolk Island pine likes to be pot bound.
Keep the plant after Christmas and grow is as a large indoor plant. It will enjoy having a summer outdoors before coming back inside to be used as Christmas plant again in the fall.
Dwarf evergreens as Christmas trees
For those of you who want a real Christmas tree, but don’t have a lot of room, you are in luck!
There are many dwarf evergreens available for sale now. From a tiny 8″ dwarf scotch pine to a tabletop dwarf blue spruce or miniature potted Christmas tree fir, the retailers have you covered!
Since these trees are sold in pots, many can be replanted in the ground to enjoy as an outdoor tree later.
Check your local florist, garden centers and even grocery stores around the holidays to see if they have them for sale.
And of course what list of plants for Xmas could be complete without traditional Christmas trees. Retail Christmas trees for into several groups – firs, pines and spruces.
The choice is as varied as their are households. If you like firs, is your choice a Douglas fir, a Balsam fir or a Fraser fir?
If pine trees are the only way to go in your home will it be a Scotch pine or a white pine?
And if the Spruce tree graces your home for Christmas, do you choose the white Spruce, the Norway Spruce or the blue Spruce?
One thing seems to be for sure. Once your family chooses one type of Christmas tree, family members keep the tradition going for generations. Which type do you like?
For many people, decorating for the holidays includes adding some Christmas plants in and around your home. What about you? Do you decorate with holiday plants? Let us know which ones in the comments below.
Pin this list of for Christmas plants for decorating
Would you like a reminder of this shopping list for Xmas plants? Just pin this image to one of your Christmas boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later. You can also print out this shopping list in the project card below.
Be sure to also check out our YouTube video for Christmas plants.
- Computer paper or cardstock
- Computer printer
- Load your heavy card stock or computer paper into your Deskjet printer.
- Choose portrait layout and if possible "fit to page" in your settings.
- Print out and use it as a shopping list when you go plant shopping.
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