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Are you searching for the perfect holiday gift for that plant lover on your list? Hoping to inspire a new plant enthusiast with the ideal plant-related gift? Houseplants are one of the best and most affordable gifts for someone interested in a plant-themed gift this holiday season.

Before you select that perfect specimen, it is helpful to consider some basic care requirements to be sure your plant’s recipient will be set up for success.

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are the most popular holiday plant in the U.S., with around 30 million sold each year. Their beautiful deep red foliage represents a quintessential shade of holiday color.

Unless you have close to ideal conditions for growth, such as a greenhouse, most of us will not be able to provide adequate care throughout the year in order to enjoy new blooms the next season. In most cases, they are just a living floral arrangement for the holidays. For that reason, it is important to carefully select your plant to ensure maximum display.

When selecting a poinsettia, pay attention to the maturity of the flowers. Although most assume the beautiful red bracts, or modified leaves, are the flower structure, poinsettia flowers are actually the tiny yellow clusters at the base.

Select a plant with flowers that are green or red tipped and show no signs of yellow pollen production, because poinsettias drop their bracts and leaves soon after their flowers shed pollen. Choose plants with bracts that are fully red and do not have green around the edges. Make sure you select a plant with a balanced and attractive canopy of leaves. There should be evenly distributed, dark green foliage all the way to the soil line.

During transport, take care to protect your plant from cold air, as they are very sensitive to cold. After it arrives at its new home, care should also be taken to shelter it from drafty windows or heating vents that cause dramatic swings in temperature. Poinsettias prefer consistent soil moisture, but be sure to allow the soil to dry out between waterings because overwatering is major cause of reduced health and poor flower display. Select a location with full sun or very bright indirect light.

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) is another popular holiday plant with beautiful, draping blooms. Most garden centers have a large variety for sale this time of year in full bloom.

I found that many retail outlets actually sell Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncate) but market it as Christmas cactus. Since both are stimulated to flower by the decreasing length of the day, they can easily be manipulated to flower for either holiday. Both have very similar care requirements, so it really isn’t that big of an issue, although the flowering next year may be closer to Thanksgiving if you can’t carefully regulate light and temperature.

Although these succulents are considered cactuses, they are not the full-sun, desert loving species we typically think of. Instead, they frequent the tree canopies of South American forests, living as epiphytes rooted into pockets of organic debris on tree branches. So they prefer part sun to shade and well-drained soil, doing best in potting mix designed for succulents. They certainly require less watering than most other houseplants, but their well-drained potting mix can dry out quickly in winter home environments.

If you have someone on your list this year who doesn’t have the green thumb required to make a holiday cactus re-bloom next year, consider some houseplants with less demanding care requirements.

Mother-in-Law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata) is perfect for a home that doesn’t have full sun, doing quite well in shade. Although spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) requires more light, it is a tough plant that can handle a wide range of settings. In addition, there are a number of commonly sold varieties that offer differing foliage or character. There a tons of succulents available with varying light requirements, although most require minimal watering, making them easy to care for.

I would argue that there is a houseplant out there for everyone, making them a wonderful gift idea this holiday season. With a little attention to their needs, they can provide beauty for years to come.

Ryan Pankau is a horticulture educator with the UI Extension, serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties. This column also appears on his ‘Garden Scoop’ blog at