Gardening for the Holidays

Cary, NC – When you think about it, gardening and plants have a big role during the holidays. There’s the Christmas tree, poinsettia, holly, mistletoe, Christmas cactus and more.


Poinsettia is the most popular Christmas plant with bright red and green leaves.  Most people buy them for the season, then toss them when they lose their leaves.

But you can keep your poinsettia alive for months, even move it outside in the summer and rejuvenate the plant for next Christmas.

The main cause of leaf drop is under-watering. Don’t let your poinsettias get dry! Don’t let them sit in a puddle of water either. A poinsettia likes a cool, draft-free spot.

Are poinsettias poisonous to cats and dogs and people? According to the experts, not really.

Like the Christmas myths about Santa Claus, flying reindeer, and a toy workshop in the North Pole, the belief that poinsettias are poisonous is FALSE. – WebMD

Poinsettia leaves are a mild irritant. People, cats and dogs may become nauseous and vomit from ingesting the leaves, but you’re not going to die.

Holly berries, on the other hand, are poisonous.

Christmas Cactus

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) is a native of mountainous eastern Brazil. These easy-care plants produce spectacular red blossoms, often in mass, just in time for the holidays (ours has been producing since Thanksgiving).

Christmas cactus can live for years, even generations, with just a little care. Indoors, water your Schlumbergera when the top inch of soil gets dry. Moderate light is best. In warm weather, take your Christmas cactus outside for some bright sky in a shady spot. To force bloom, bring the plant indoors about 10 weeks before the holidays and set it in a place that gets at 12-14 hours of darkness.


Mistletoe is a class of plants that cling to trees and shrubs, sucking their moisture and nutrients from their hosts. It is found in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia.

Originally used in the religious rites of Druids, mistletoe retains its connection to fertility through the holiday custom of “kissing under the mistletoe.”


Beautiful flower at Christmas, usually sold in shades of red and white for the holidays. Makes a great centerpiece. You can keep the bulb alive for future holiday seasons in a sunny indoor spot.


The dark, pointy leaves and red berries of holly have made it a staple of Christmas decoration.  Plastic holly abounds, but if you want the real thing, you may have to grow your own.

The species are evergreen or deciduous trees, shrubs, and climbers from tropics to temperate zones worldwide. We have two holly plants in our garden – a tree and a shrub.

Holly berries are poisonous so don’t bring it into the house if you have small children, dogs or an uncle who will eat anything on a dare. Unless you want to get rid of that uncle.

Story by Hal Goodtree. Photos – Poinsettia by imelda; Amaryllis by tutincommon; Mistletoe by Jon Sullivan; Holly by Peter Birch; Christmas cactus by Ted Thompson. The Gardening column is sponsored by Garden Supply Company on Old Apex Road in Cary.