How To Care For Holiday Plants — Poinsettias & Christmas Cactus

Learn more about taking care of popular holiday plants, poinsettias and Christmas cactus.

University of Florida/IFAS Extension Director for Nassau County, Rebecca Jordi, answers questions about landscaping and gardening in northeast Florida.


QUESTION: I keep hearing conflicting information about poinsettias being poisonous. Are they poisonous or are they not? JT

JORDI: I have answered this question in years past but I always get it asked each year so I am publishing it again.

Safe Not Poisonous

The following information was taken in part from the University of Florida website called, “Solutions for Your Life”, (see link at end of this answer). Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are NOT poisonous.

However, some people may be sensitive to the latex in poinsettia sap. Although eating numerous leaves will not result in illness, the plant is not considered edible. When used as an indoor plant, it should be kept out of reach of children and pets. Curious cats and dogs have been known to nibble on leaves and some of these pets may later vomit the leaves back up on your expensive Persian wool carpet, but the results will not be harmful to the pet. The carpet? Well, cleaning it may become an expensive endeavor!

Some new cultivars of poinsettia involve unusual color combinations or blooming time. The bracts of the ‘Ice Punch’ cultivar come out red and turn white as they grow. The color pattern of ‘Peppermint Twist’s’ bracts varies from one plant to another, giving each plant a unique look. ‘Advent Red’–an annual blooming as early as October–has been cultivated primarily as a landscape plant.

With proper care, your poinsettias may stay colorful for many months. Poinsettias can retain their color until March if they are not exposed to freezing temperatures.

Poinsettia Care Tips

Keep your poinsettias away from drafts and chilly air. They grow best in well-lit areas, but direct sun or hot lights can dry out the plants. Water your poinsettia when the surface of the soil is dry to the touch. Place a saucer under the pot, and drain the saucer if water starts to collect in it. Keep the soil from getting soggy. Too much water can kill a poinsettia.

Poinsettias are beautiful plants and excellent choices for gift giving during the holidays. Read more about poinsettias at

QUESTION: I was given a Christmas cactus as a gift but I don’t know how to take care of it. CK

JORDI: No worries, caring for Christmas cactus will be easier than you think.

Christmas Cactus (Photo Credit: University of Minnesota)
Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera bridgesii, is a popular, fall and winter flowering houseplants native to Brazil. These beautiful plants are available in a wide variety of colors including red, rose, purple, lavender, peach, orange, cream, and white. Schlumbergera species grow as epiphytes among tree branches in shady rain forests, and their pendulous stems make them a great choice for hanging baskets.

Christmas Cactus Care Tips

Be sure to use well-drained sandy soil. The kind of soil used for other types of cacti will work perfectly for Christmas cactus. One of the biggest mistakes most people make is over-watering. It is best to water them only once they have become completely dry. You can test the dryness of the soil by putting your finger in the first few inches. Place a saucer under to the plant to catch any excess water and empty the saucer after a few minutes. You may find they need to be watered only once every few weeks. Water only around the roots and not on the leaves. If the leaves become limp then they desperately need water or there is a root decay.

It is too cold here in Northeast Florida to plant Christmas cactus outside; they should be left in pots and kept inside especially during cold months. You can move them outside to a screened porch or patio once the temperatures consistently reach the high 50s. Christmas cacti love bright sunny areas but do not let them be exposed to direct sunlight – especially hot, western afternoon sun.

Use a good, complete fertilizer specifically formulated for houseplants. Liquid formulation works best. Avoid over fertilization as this will limit the number of buds and flowers. Start fertilizing in the spring but stop in the late summer to encourage blooming in the fall and winter.

We hope you have a safe and healthy holiday from all of us at the Nassau County UF/IFAS Extension office.

Rebecca Jordi
Rebecca L. Jordi
Nassau County Extension Director
UF/IFAS Environmental Horticulture
543350 U.S. Highway #1
Callahan, FL 32011