While clearing up the crumbs and clutter of holidays, you might find yourself staring at the December decorative plants, thinking, "Jewels...

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While clearing up the crumbs and clutter of holidays, you might find yourself staring at the December decorative plants, thinking, “Jewels or junk?”

Some plants make great, even long-lasting companions, while others decline miserably.

Here’s some help:


Start with that gorgeous amaryllis (Hippeastrum species), the drama queen. These feature 2-foot-tall stalks topped with brilliant big flowers. You’ll find the bulbs in nurseries through January, often on sale. They’re fine to start now, with flowering six weeks away, around Valentine’s Day.

But say yours is done, with fading flowers leaning sideways. Amaryllis can turn into swell houseplants if they get a warm, light spot.

Cut off and discard the dead bloom stalk at the top of the bulb, without cutting into the bulb. Yank off any frilly foil wrappers and check the drainage; water should drain through the pot.

Basic care tips

To keep a potted plant blooming longest:

Remove any foil, plastic or other wrapping and set the pot on a saucer or drainage tray.

Put it in a bright window in a room with steady, moderate temperatures, says Mark Smithey, director of live goods for Lowe’s. Don’t move it around. “Find a happy place for it, and leave it there,” he says.

Water it when the surface of the soil is dry; for most indoor plants, overwatering is the likeliest cause of death. If in doubt, buy a moisture meter, Smithey suggests. But never let it stand in water for any length of time, and don’t fertilize.

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Then buff up the plant with ample water, light and fertilizer.

Amaryllis like warmth, so let water warm to room temperature before using it. Keep the plant where temperatures will stay 70 degrees during daytime, and about 10 degrees cooler at night. Fertilize every three weeks with a balanced houseplant fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10.

Come summer, or what passes for summer in May and June, move it outdoors into light shade, and keep up the water and feeding.

You’ll be rewarded by a deep-green fan of leaves. Coax it into dormancy by stopping food and water in September, and keep it in a dark spot. If the gardening gods smile, you’ll have a new bud emerging after 12 weeks of rest.

Poinsettias also make fine tropical house companions. Colored bracts (leaves) will fade gradually, and the plant will continue to grow, with green leaves only.

They need the same routine as the amaryllis: water, warmth, light. Grow them inside during winter and outside when temperatures exceed 55 degrees.

Trim the plants back to about 8 to 12 inches in April. Repot it to accommodate the growing roots in May. By August, you’ll have a large potful.

Getting these to recolor in fall requires skill and luck. My advice: Don’t try this at home. Leave it to the professionals, and select new plants from nurseries for winter color. But if you’re still curious, check out www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/poinsettia.

Other tropicals, such as bromeliads and chenille plants, also can carry on as house decor.


This category includes forced tulips; tiny roses from grocery stores, chrysanthemums and carnations; and even the heavenly paperwhite narcissus.

All these require specialized future conditions not present in the average living room.

Paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus tazetta) should be fed and watered until the leaves turn yellow, then allowed to dry completely.

I have seen one pot leap into rebloom; the owner stuck it behind a door in May and forgot about it. New buds formed in September, and she started watering again.

Or you can simply let paperwhites join these others on the discard pile.

Next season will find you bringing home fresh foliage again!

Garden expert Mary Robson is a retired area horticulture agent for Washington State University/King County Cooperative Extension. Her e-mail is marysophia@olympus.net.