Many plants are associated with Christmas, including the Christmas tree, poinsettia and Christmas cactus, along with berrying holly and evergreen ivy, which are often used to make handsome Christmas wreaths. But why stop there? There's a huge variety of plants that look good at Christmas time, which can be given as gifts or used to make festive displays, both inside and out.
Indoor plants bring a wealth of colour to the festive season, lending themselves to table displays and other natural decorations, as well as working as part of a standalone display. Outside, Christmas plants can extend festive displays, providing opportunities for front gardens, patio pots and raised beds. While they look gorgeous on their own, many plants look particularly festive when draped with fairy lights or even Christmas decorations.
We've picked our favourite plants to grow, gift and decorate at Christmas. Find out more, below.
Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
Showy bright red poinsettias are immensely popular as Christmas decorations and gifts. The red ‘flowers’ are actually leaf bracts and make a handsome contrast to the dark green leaves. Poinsettias are specially grown to flower in the middle of winter and are tricky to keep going, so are usually discarded before spring. However it is possible to encourage your poinsettia to flower again.
Suitable for: warm and well-lit rooms out of direct sunlight.
Care: poinsettias need warmth with a minimum temperature of 13-15°C and should be kept away from cold draughts. Water to ensure the compost is moist but not wet and let it almost dry out between waterings. Mist regularly to boost humidity.
Buying advice: poinsettias hate the cold, so only buy from a reputable source where plants have been well cared for and take indoors straight away – don’t leave your poinsettia sitting in a cold car, or in a box on the doorstep.
Moth orchid (Phaleonopsis)
Exotic-looking and long-lasting blooms bring style and elegance to a room and make beautiful gifts too, especially as moth orchid is one of the easiest orchids to grow. White flowers look the most Christmassy but there are pinks, purples, and yellows too, often bi-coloured. Many blooms are borne on a tall, arching stem above leathery dark green leaves.
Suitable for: warm rooms with good light, out of direct summer sun.
Care: moth orchids need plenty of warmth and consistent temperatures with a minimum temperature of 16°C. An east or west-facing windowsill is ideal, but away from radiators and draughts as they dislike fluctuating temperatures. Water, ideally with tepid rainwater, so the compost is not too wet and not too dry. Always let excess water drain away as orchids are liable to rot. With the right siting and care, a moth orchid is long-lived.
Buying advice: look for healthy foliage and choose a plant with some flowers yet to open, to enjoy a long display.
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera)
Masses of bright flowers, usually pink, purple, sometimes red or white, make a lovely display to lift the spirits in the middle of winter. The blooms are borne on the tips of the flattened, fleshy, mid green leaves that form a neat bushy plant. Easy to grow, Christmas cactus can live for many years and makes a great gift that will keep on giving.
Suitable for: warm sunny rooms.
Care: avoiding overwatering is key as the fleshy leaves store water. While flowering, keep the soil moist but not wet, and on no account let the plant sit in water. Once flowering has finished, reduce frequency so the plant almost dries out before watering again.
Buying advice: look for plants with plenty of flower buds as the blooms last for several days only, but are produced in succession.
Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum)
Widely sold at Christmas time, cyclamen make a gorgeous display of flowers in colours that include festive red, purple, pink and white. The neat and compact plants form a clump of rounded marbled leaves with flowers borne on short stems. The flowers can last for six to eight weeks. Though it’s possible to get cyclamen to flower in future years, most are discarded after flowering.
Suitable for: cool rooms out of direct sun.
Care: cyclamen need a cool environment at a temperature of 10-15°C. Water only from below, standing the pot in water for an hour or so, and then allowing it to drain so the compost remains moist but not wet. Cyclamen are prone to rot, which spreads from dead leaves or flowers so pick off regularly, twisting the stem with finger and thumb to remove it all.
Buying advice: choose plants with a few open flowers and plenty of buds. Avoid plants that look droopy – a sign of overwatering – and any with lots of dead leaves. Not to be confused with cyclamen sold for outdoors.
Indoor azaleas make showy bursts of colour in the middle of winter and, like cyclamen, also thrive in cool conditions and suffer in warm, centrally heated rooms. Masses of frilled blooms, in a wide range of colours including reds, pinks, mauves, white, and bicoloured, are borne on a neat bushy plant with oval dark green leaves.
Suitable for: cool rooms in good light out of direct sun.
Care: azaleas need frequent watering when in flower, best done by sitting the pot in water for an hour or so, and then allowing the pot to drain. Use tepid rainwater if possible, especially in hard water areas, and mist to boost humidity. Pick off faded flowers every couple of days.
Buying advice: select well-budded plants and watch out for any with shrivelled foliage, a sign the plant has dried out at some point.
Huge, exotic-looking flowers grow from large bulbs, blooming about four to six weeks after planting. Amaryllis make excellent gifts – buy them as ready-grown plants or as bulbs in pictorial gift boxes. They are so quick to develop you can almost see them grow, making them a great plant for children, too. There’s a range of bright colours to choose from, including red, pink, and bicolors, as well as white.
Suitable for: warm rooms in good light.
Care: Site with as much light as possible and a minimum temperature of 16°C. For even upright growth, turn every few days as the plant will grow towards the light. To keep amaryllis for another year, allow leaves to grow and die back naturally once flowering is over, let the bulb go dormant for summer, then repot and start watering in autumn.
Buying advice: buy good-sized bulbs as bigger bulbs produce more flowers. Check bulbs are firm with no sign of rot.
Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla)
Tiered branches clothed with narrow needle-like leaves make a perfect little indoor Christmas tree that will last for years, slowly growing to around 1.5m tall. The slender branches are strong enough to support a few lightweight decorations. Unlike traditional Christmas trees, the Norfolk Island pine is not hardy –which is hardly surprising, as it originates from the South Pacific – but it will thrive in a cool environment that is frost-free.
Suitable for: a cool, bright, airy room, porch, or conservatory.
Care: site in a well-ventilated location away from drying central heating. Norfolk Island Pine withstands temperatures as low as 5°C. Boost humidity with frequent misting. Water sparingly during winter to keep the compost just moist, and water more frequently from spring to autumn. Can move outside to a part-shaded spot for the summer.
Buying advice: choose a plant with well-balanced branches and fresh green healthy growth.
Flamingo flower (Anthurium)
Flamingo flower has showy glossy red flower-like bracts contrasting with large, heart-shaped, glossy green leaves make this a tempting plant for midwinter. It's long lived with the right care and growing conditions, although flamingo flower is not the easiest of house plants.
Suitable for: warm rooms with good light
Care: Flamingo flower needs a minimum temperature of 15°C and grows best at 18-21°C, in a well-lit spot out of direct sunlight. Avoid radiators and draughts. Water to keep soil evenly moist but take care not to over-water. Boost humidity by misting and standing on a pebble-filled saucer of water.
Buying advice: choose a plant with healthy green leaves and several fully open flowers as well as some yet to open.
Lemons are handsome plants, combining fragrant white flowers and mouth-watering edible fruit, against handsome dark evergreen leaves. Other types of citrus with orange or lime fruit are also available, although lemon is most popular and most winter hardy. Citrus are long lived with the right care but aren’t the easiest of plants to grow, nor the cheapest, so make sure you give it a good home.
Suitable for: cool, well-lit location such as a conservatory, porch, or garden room.
Care: in winter, keep frost-free at a minimum temperature of 10-13°C, away from draughts and radiators. For the summer months, citrus do best outside, shaded from strong sun. Water to keep soil evenly moist, around once a week or so in winter and up to three times weekly in summer.
Buying advice: select bushy plants with healthy green leaves, buds, and flowers. Plants bearing fruit are ideal as a gift. Inspect leaf joints and undersides for signs of scale insect and mealy bug pests.
This classic Christmas plant slowly grows to tree size if untouched but responds well to pruning to restrict size and shape into neat bushes, pyramids, or standard ‘lollipops’, all available either as young plants or mature ready-trained specimens. The colours of the prickly holly leaves vary from dark glossy green and blue-green to bright variegations of gold and silver – perfect for winter cheer. Female varieties bear berries, usually bright sealing-wax red, but yellow berrying hollies are also available.
Suitable for: borders and large pots, in sun or part shade.
Care: site out of cold winds that may scorch the foliage. Keep the soil of pot-grown plants evenly moist all year, though ensure surplus water drains freely so the plant doesn’t become waterlogged.
Buying advice: select plants well-furnished with growth. Avoid those with lots of fallen leaves in the pot, or which are pot-bound with the container packed with roots, both signs that the plant is likely to have been stressed.
Coloured-stemmed dogwood (Cornus)
Bare stems in glowing reds and oranges from this hardy, easy to grow shrub make a brilliant festively coloured winter display. These are larger-growing shrubs that reach from one to several metres high and wide and do need a permanent home in the ground but growing in a pot is fine for the first few months to make a winter patio display. If space permits, plant dogwood in groups of three or more to create the best colourful effects.
Suitable for: borders in sun or part shade, in any reasonable soil.
Care: water during dry spells for the first growing season. Once plants are a couple of years old, prune every spring just as the buds are bursting, removing a third to a half of the oldest stems close to the ground.
Buying advice: select bushy plants with a well-balanced framework of colourful branches.
Christmas rose (Helleborus niger)
Gleaming white, flat, open flowers, with a central boss of stamens shine out on dull days and contrast with dark green divided leaves. Christmas rose is not a rose, despite the name, but a hardy perennial that forms a small, bushy plant which grows to around 30cm high and wide. Lovely in a small pot or window box for the winter before planting out in the garden in spring, or for underplanting larger shrubs. On mild days, bees and other insects will appreciate the nectar-rich flowers.
Suitable for: partial shade and good soil in pots or borders.
Care: remove flowers that have faded to encourage more blooms. Water if needed to keep compost moist. Ensure soil drains freely if growing in pots.
Buying advice: select plants with a mixture of open blooms and plenty of buds. Avoid any with yellowing, droopy foliage.
Christmas box (Sarcococca)
This evergreen shrub is a fragrant delight in mid-winter, smothered in little tassels of creamy-white flowers that give off a strong, sweet scent. Compact and bushy, the upright stems are clothed with slender, dark green leaves. Grow Christmas or sweet box near a path or in a front garden to appreciate its fragrance.
Suitable for: large pots, borders, or a woodland garden in partial or full shade and any reasonable soil.
Care: To grow in pots, use soil-based potting compost and always keep plants evenly moist. Water plants in the ground for the first growing season until established.
Buying advice: select plants that are well-budded. Avoid those with yellowing leaves.
This winter-flowering gem not only boasts a lovely display of blooms to brighten the darkest day but they have a delightful fragrance too. Camellia blooms are single, semi-double, or fully double, in shades of red, pink, and white touched with colour. Most have a bold central boss of golden stamens, rich in nectar and popular with bees on mild winter days.
Suitable for: sunny and sheltered sites in milder areas, or in a cool conservatory or glass porch. Needs lime-free (alkaline) soil.
Care: plant in suitable soil or, to grow in a large container, use ericaceous potting compost. Keep plants evenly moist all year, whether in a pot or in the ground, particularly during summer as this is when flower buds start to form.
Buying advice: choose well-grown bushy plants with a mixture of flower buds and open flowers.
Evergreens that are stylishly trimmed in a variety of architectural shapes give all-year substance and structure to a garden, and a touch of formality. Shapes vary from simple balls to more grandiose tall pyramids, spirals, and standards with a clear stem and a ‘head’ of foliage. Use in many different ways: a matching pair of topiary plants make a handsome complement to doors and gateways. Use taller plants singly or in multiples to create height and style to a patio or courtyard, or plant small topiary balls or pyramids in window boxes. Popular topiary plants include box, small leaved privet and bay, though many different evergreens are suitable for clipping and shaping.
Suitable for: containers and borders, in sun or shade out of cold winds.
Care: trim two to three times a year to maintain shape, between late spring and early autumn. Water pot grown plants to keep evenly moist.
Buying advice: look for even and well-shaped plants without any brown or yellowing patches.
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