17 Best Plants and Flowers for Christmas
17 Best Plants and Flowers for Christmas
Amaryllis is a popular flowering plant for festive Christmas decor. It grows from a bulb and blooms about 6 weeks after planting. Some types, such as Amaryllis ‘Ferrari,’ are tended in greenhouses to encourage flowering in December—just in time for Christmas. Planting in October or November ensures Amaryllis will bear a cluster of vibrant red or white trumpet-shaped flowers come December 25.
CARE: For a burst of holiday blooms, you’ll either want to plant Amaryllis in the fall or buy bulbs already planted in pots. Once planted, allow it to soak up bright, direct sunlight, and provide it regular water in well-drained soil. What should you do with it after Christmas? Just ask The Grumpy Gardener.
Learn more about Amaryllis.
This festive plant comes with a warning. While no holiday scene would be complete without a drop of evergreen mistletoe, it’s not commonly grown on purpose. American mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum) is native from Florida to the mid-Atlantic and west to Texas. Its calling card is that it grows in a parasitic manner on the branches of host trees. Usually, the host tree is not harmed in this process, but it’s nearly impossible to remove mistletoe once it has taken root in the bark of a hardwood.
CARE: Clipping mistletoe for an arrangement (or for hanging from a ribbon in a doorway) won't cause permanent removal in the host tree. According to The Southern Living Garden Book, for lasting removal of mistletoe, “the infested branch must be removed at least 1 foot below the point of attachment. But since this process may disfigure the tree and reinfestation from nearby trees is likely, it's usually best to leave the tree alone.”
Learn more about mistletoe.
The deciduous plant Viburnum bodnantense grows to great heights—10 feet tall and 6 feet wide, reliably. The best known selection is Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn,’ which produces subtle red fruit and blooms in winter. The blossoms that emerge in the cold months are very fragrant pink flowers, and they fade from deep magenta to pale rose as they age. In fall, the color changes continue as Viburnum's green leaves turn a deep scarlet hue.
CARE: Viburnum species are tolerant of most soils, even those that are too heavy or lime-rich for other plants. They appreciate some shade in the hot Southern summers and require minimal pruning each year. They are also somewhat resistant to the damage often left by roaming deer, so they're a hardy enough choice for Southern gardens in the fall and winter.
Learn more about Viburnum.
This festive cactus species blooms from late fall through the winter months, which makes it a colorful addition for Christmastime gardens. Schlumbergera x buckleyi (also known as S. bridgesii) has an eye-catching combination of bright green scalloped stems and long red flowers. S. truncata is another holiday-blooming cactus species with deep scarlet flowers; it's known as Thanksgiving cactus because it blooms slightly earlier in the season.
CARE: Christmas cactus grows best with regular watering in partial shade or bright indirect light. It also thrives in in rich, porous soil. According to The Southern Living Garden Book, to encourage a December bloom you should keep the plant in a cool-temperature environment (50-55 degrees) at night and ensure that it gets 12-14 hours of darkness each day during the month of November.
Learn more about Schlumbergera.
Cyclamen, a regional favorite, blooms during the winter in shades of white, pink, and red. It produces lovely Christmastime blooms and provides subtle garden color. C. x atkinsii and C. coum develop crimson flowers in winter and have 4- to 6-inch stems with deep green leaves. Some species bloom within a year, while others take many years to mature. Almost all species go dormant during the summer.
CARE: Cyclamen are good container plants and should be grown in full indirect sunlight or partial shade. They thrive in rich, well-drained soil that is neutral or slightly alkaline. For the ideal environment, mix coarse sand and organic matter into soil before planting.
Learn more about Cyclamen.
The mighty fir (aka Abies sp., aka the classic Christmas tree) comes in all manner of heights and circumferences, so take stock of your living room, and buy one to fit. During the season, you can find them potted or pre-cut, or you can chop down one of your own at a nearby Christmas tree farm. Christmas trees come in all shapes and sizes and are also represented by spruce (Picea sp.) and pine (Pinus sp.) types.
CARE: To place a tree in its stand, you’ll need to first saw off ¼-inch round from the bottom of the trunk. (This helps the tree better absorb water.) Place it in the stand, fill the stand with water, and keep it well watered throughout the season, or until the needle shed signals the end of the holidays. If you have a potted tree, move it outdoors at the end of the holiday season and plant it in deep, well-drained soil. Planted firs won't always thrive in the South, as they require afternoon shade and a moist, cool environment for their root systems.
Learn more about fir trees.
While ivy (Hedera sp.) has a tendency to invade (one reason some gardeners avoid it altogether), it’s also a beautiful, deep green addition to holiday scenes—hence the Christmas carol “The Holly and the Ivy.” This evergreen climbing vine can spread horizontally over the ground or vertically up walls. It’s also lovely dangling from hanging baskets or trellises, as well as curling delicately in pots. English ivy (H. helix) is a less vigorous grower compared to other Hedera species, but it’s a beautiful Christmastime planting with its telltale lobed green leaves.
CARE: Ivy should be planted in spring or fall, and it is most reliable when grown from a pot of seed rather than from a cutting. Ivy likes soil that’s full of organic matter, and it should be fed with nitrogen-rich fertilizer in spring and summer to encourage growth.
Learn more about ivy.
Lenten rose, or Helleborus, is a good garden choice for subtle color in the winter and early spring months. Hellebores bloom in drooping cup or bell-shaped flowers across the color spectrum—white, green, pink, red, or purple flowers emerge during the cool season depending on the species and selection. The blossoms also last; they maintain their form but fade to green as the blooming period ends.
CARE: Lenten rose is a long-lived plant in the garden. It thrives in well-drained soil that is slightly alkaline. Once planted, it likes to be left alone (and it often is—hellebores are deer- and rodent-resistant).
Learn more about Helleborus.
Mahonia x media
Mahonia x media is a species of evergreen shrub that looks like holly but is actually related to barberry (Berberis). The plant’s prickly leaves are a deep green backdrop for the clusters of impressive yellow flowers that bloom out in winter. Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ flowers earlier than other Mahonia species and selections; it produces fragrant blooms that appear around Christmastime and are accompanied by berry-shaped fruit and the plant’s signature dramatic foliage.
CARE: Mahonia is a low-maintenance planting, as it requires well-draining soil and only the occasional prune. It is both pest- and deer-resistant, and you can expect Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ to reach 4 to 5 feet tall and wide.
Learn more about Mahonia.
Viola x wittrockiana, also known as pansy, is a perennial in the Violaceae family (alongside violas and violets). Despite its perennial qualities, it’s often grown as a cool-season annual. It has shiny green leaves and flowers in white, blue, red, and yellow hues. If you're looking for winter ground cover, Sprite Mix is a pretty and reliable choice. Select ‘Padparadja’ for reddish petals and ‘Springtime Black’ for lush dark blooms. The related species Viola cornuta is also grown as a cool-season annual, and its flowers come in varied shades too.
CARE: Pansy is often chosen for mass plantings in garden borders. It thrives in mild winters when planted in rich, moist soil. You should also keep your pansy plantings well watered once they're in the ground, and when selecting a spot to plant, keep in mind that they grow best in an area with full sun to partial shade.
Learn more about Viola.
Paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus) is a perennial that grows from a bulb and can be forced to flower indoors in the winter months. It requires little in the way of soil, and once planted, it can be expected to bloom in 4 to 6 weeks. When it flowers, the paperwhite produces delicate, deeply fragrant white flowers that appear in bunches on tall green stems.
CARE: Paperwhite narcissus is a hardy, albeit fleeting, blooming bulb, and it's often forced to flower at Christmastime. To encourage blooming, keep the bulbs in darkness until you’re ready to plant them, and once planted, water them regularly in well-drained soil. You should also keep them in a cool environment away from direct sunlight. Once the blooms appear, they'll likely begin to droop. When this happens, you’ll need to stake the stems for support.
Learn more about paperwhites.
The most festive (and ubiquitous) flower of the holiday season is the scarlet-blooming poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). It’s an evergreen, semievergreen, or deciduous shrub that can thrive indoors or outdoors. Its showy, petal-like bracts are well-known at Christmastime, as it is omnipresent in the red single form. Other forms are double-bracted and/or white, yellow, and pink, but you're most likely to encounter the scarlet leaves at your local garden stores.
CARE: Be sure to avoid overwatering poinsettia plants; take care to water moderately only when the soil becomes dry. Poinsettias require little in the way of care and will grow tall and leggy before you know it. If you take cuttings, do so in late summer and encourage blooming by ensuring new plants get up to 14 hours of darkness per day beginning in October.
Learn more about poinsettias.
While many species of primrose (Primula sp.) bloom in spring and early summer, several types bloom in winter. P. x polyantha, often called polyanthus primrose or English primrose, blooms from winter to spring and bears bright, showy, five-petaled flowers in thick, romantic clusters. The hues of these flowers vary among the species and selections. At the base of the English primrose plant, there occur clumps of foliage that resemble leaves of romaine lettuce.
CARE: These plants thrive in pots and when planted en masse. Primrose requires a cool, humid climate and soil that’s both moist and rich. According to The Southern Living Garden Book, many species can grow as perennials but are often treated as cold-season annuals.
Learn more about primrose.
Valencia orange (Citrus x sinensis ‘Valencia’) is a sweet orange cultivar known widely as the ideal orange for juicing. It bears almost-seedless fruit in midwinter—Christmas oranges, anyone?—and spring. If you’re looking for an earlier ripening, ‘Delta’ and ‘Midknight’ are good alternatives and produce entirely seedless fruit. These types are moderately resistant to cold in the South; for more cold-hardy citrus, try planting kumquats or satsuma mandarins.
CARE: Winter citrus is a dose of sunshine in the colder months. In addition to fruit, citrus plants also offer shiny, year-round foliage and bear small, fragrant blossoms. When planted, citrus requires regular water and full sun to ensure it will thrive, hence its profusion in sunny states such as Florida and California.
Learn more about citrus.
Honeysuckle occurs in evergreen, semievergreen, or deciduous shrubs and vines. This particular plant, also known as Lonicera fragrantissima or January jasmine, is an extremely fragrant semi-evergreen shrub with long, oval leaves in shades of dark green. Winter honeysuckle flowers throughout the winter months and produces tiny cream-colored blooms that carry a sweet fragrance. The flowers are accompanied by small, red fruit that resemble other, more familiar, berry forms.
CARE: Winter honeysuckle is a good choice for a compact clipped hedge. It's an attractive outdoor planting, and once buds emerge in winter, branches can be clipped and brought indoors to bloom. Doing this will fill your home with a telltale delicately sweet honeysuckle scent.
Learn more about honeysuckle.
Holly is a classic Christmas shrub, and the winterberry species (Ilex verticillata) is a hardy sort with dark green leaves. It's native to North America, and the female plants bear clusters of vibrant scarlet berries that last through the winter. ‘Red Sprite’ bears large red berries, and the red berries of ‘Winter Red,’ a favorite across the South, last through February.
CARE: According to The Southern Living Garden Book, I. verticillata thrives in acid soil with regular water. It requires a moist, organic environment and has been known to grow wildly in boggy climes—often from 6 to 10 feet tall and wide. Other holly species have been known to grow to 50 feet tall, a reason they’re often chosen for privacy plantings and topiary.
Learn more about holly.
Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide' is a winter-blooming flowering shrub. Yuletide camellia’s blooming season begins in fall and lasts through the winter, making it a strong contender for garden color at Christmastime. It bears bright red, single blooms on a smallish, densely foliated plant. While most thriving camellias can be expected to grow 8-10 feet tall, this is a compact selection and will grow 4 to 5 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide.
CARE: This particular camellia is a drought-tolerant, hardy perennial plant that requires little in the way of garden maintenance and care once it’s established. It’s evergreen and thrives in the mild winters of the South. When planting, ensure that it’s in a spot where it will receive partial to full sun, and begin with moderate to regular watering. If you’re looking to plant this year, you can find this camellia in the Southern Living Plant Collection.
Learn more about Camellia.