Houseplants can add a lot of color to your home this dark time of year. Almost anything that will bloom can be considered a Christmas plant, and the stereotypical Christmas plants don’t have to be thrown away after the holiday. They can look good right through spring.

Shellie Harding, director of foliage plants at Longfellow Greenhouses in Manchester, said poinsettia remains the most popular Christmas plant. But you don’t have to go with the traditional flat red bracts. Longfellow’s sells 20 to 30 different kinds of poinsettias, mostly in 6½-inch pots, and they fill a big area of the greenhouses.

“The Winter Rose poinsettia comes out as a nice little rose cluster instead of the larger bracts and leaves,” Harding said. This comes in a variety of colors, including pure red, pink and a mix of white and pink.

One of the newest is the Tapestry poinsettia.

“Its leaves are actually variegated, with a mix of gold, yellow and green and red bracts,” Harding said. “It is actually very pretty.”

Customers have different reactions to these unusual versions of traditional plants.

“Each to their own,” she said. “A lot of people prefer the traditional, but I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say, ‘I just don’t like that.’ It’s really just a problem of being overwhelmed by so many different choices. But, of course, we have people here who can help them with that.”

Harding said a lot of people keep poinsettias year-round just for the foliage, and varieties like Tapestry would be good for that. She said reblooming a poinsettia is difficult, but a lot of people sometimes like to give it a try.

Poinsettias are not the only Christmas plants, of course.

Christmas cactuses are very popular, and they come in a variety of colors. And, unlike poinsettias, it is fairly easy to get Christmas cactuses to bloom in future years.

But getting them to bloom at Christmas as opposed to Thanksgiving or Halloween can be more difficult. And there are versions designed to bloom at Thanksgiving. For beginners, neither Christmas nor Thanksgiving cactus is a desert-type cactus, but closer to the orchid family.

Another popular plant is cyclamen, which people can buy in bloom now at their nursery and keep it in bloom until March. It comes in colors ranging from white and pink to red.

Harding said some people have no problems keeping cyclamen alive and bringing them back to bloom, but she recommends you repot them at least once every few years.

Cyclamen comes from a corm, and after it is done blooming in March or April you should put the plant on its side, let it dry out, remove the corm and replant it, half buried in new soil.

“It just needs a bit of resting every now and then,” Harding said.

Other plants that sell well at this time of year are kalanchoe, Norfolk Island pines, rosemary pruned into cone shapes, ivy topiaries in Christmas tree shapes, antherium — which can be colorful at this time of year — and plenty of orchids.

In addition, if you didn’t plant bulbs such as amaryllis or paperwhites in time to get flowers when you want them, Longfellow’s did it for you. You can buy them just about ready to bloom.

Although you might think Mainers keep their houses cool to save money, which makes life hard for houseplants, Harding said that isn’t so.

“It is a huge misconception that houseplants like heat,” she said. “A good, safe temperature is from 55 to 65 degrees. A few tropicals like umbrella plants or bird of paradise should be 60 to 65.”

It does help to put plants in a saucer and have the saucer sit on a tray of pebbles with water in it. That will give the plant a moist atmosphere in the air without allowing the plant to sit in water. At this time of year, plants should be watered only once every 15 days or so.

Now, if all of these instructions are too much, that is the advantage of shopping at a garden center that specializes in plants. They will have plant-care instructions that have already been printed out or can be printed out from a printer by the cash register.

Harding said that while Longfellow’s does sell a lot of plants during the Christmas season, business does not slow down an awful lot after the holidays. They also have classes on orchids and other plants.

“We get a lot of foot traffic,” she said. “People like to look at the plants, and buy a few, to counter the weather outside.” 

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at

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