The most obvious holiday plant is the poinsettia. Brought to this country in the 1800’s by Joel Poinsett from Mexico, it has become the plant most associated with the holiday season. Poinsettias come in a variety of colors ranging from white to salmon, to pink, to red with many combinations available as well. If you aren’t familiar with them, check out some of the newer varieties. You’ll find doubles in pink and red and even spotted ones. Poinsettias like bright light and warm temperatures. Water thoroughly when dry but don’t overwater as this will rot the roots of the plant.
Christmas cactus are the plant probably next most associated with the holiday season. Actually, unless you have a true, old fashioned Christmas Cactus which will only be red, most cactus in this family are more of a holiday cactus, which will bloom from Halloween through December. They range in colors from white to pink and salmon to red. Keep these in a bright and cool place to make the blooms last. If they form buds and then the buds drop, they need more light. These plants will sometimes re-bloom during the year if they are stressed from being too dry or cold, so if you have one that is blooming at other times, this is most likely the problem. How to tell the difference? True Christmas cactus have rounded edges on their stems, while holiday cactus will have serrated looking edges.
Cyclamen have been gaining in popularity in recent years and for good reason. These plants come in a range of colors from white to pinks and purples to reds. The newer and more interesting varieties are frilly on the edges or have interesting color combinations. They come in a full size plant usually available in a 6” pot or a miniature, usually sold in a 4” pot. Cyclamen are grown from a seed that forms a corm from which the plant grows. Be careful on your watering with this plant- you don’t want to rot that corm. Water from the bottom if possible, watering from the top only every 4-5th time to leach out the soil. Cyclamen like full sun, but cool temps and will tolerate temperatures down to 45-50 degrees.
If something spectacular is what you’re after, consider an amaryllis. If you aren’t familiar with these, they are huge, beautiful, showy flowers that come from a bulb. The bulbs can either be bought singly or in kits that are widely available. Depending on the variety, whether it is African or South American, it will take about 4-8 weeks to bloom so if you want to have one already blooming at Christmas time for a gift, you’ll need to get it started now. Amaryllis can be forced in either soil or water and special vases are available for just that purpose.
Another traditional holiday favorite that are easily forced are paperwhites. These bulbs are for forcing indoors only and bloom in 3-6 weeks. Very fragrant, a few paperwhites will scent an entire room. Force in either a pan of gravel or water, place in full sun and you’ll find them remarkably easy to grow.
Another plant that isn’t generally associated with the holidays, but can make a wonderful gift is an orchid. Much easier to care for than they appear, these plants will bloom and grow throughout the year. Exotic and spectacular, many new varieties are available each year.
If you have shut ins or elderly on your list, consider a wreath for them as well. This can be purchased and given at this time of year so that it can be enjoyed throughout the holiday season. Have your local garden center treat it with a product called “Wilt-Pruf” which is a moisture retardant and it should stay healthy and green throughout the season. Another great gift for the elderly are bird feeders and seed for a winter filled with bird watching.
And finally some housekeeping notes for mid-November. It’s been so warm outside, please be sure to keep your outside watering going, especially for newly planted perennials, trees and shrubs. It is essential that they are being kept well watered. Also, if you plan to purchase a living Christmas tree, dig and prepare the hole that you will plant it in now, rather than after the ground freezes.
This year consider a living gift. Besides brightening a winter home, the joy and pleasure it gives it’s recipient in watching it grow and bloom and can last far past the holiday season.
Gail Vanik can be reached at 970-565-8274 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.