Wednesday, December 13, 2017

How to choose a Christmas plant

It's the holiday season and that means lots of parties and events to attend...and lots of gifts to buy. Holiday plants can be a beautiful and easy hostess gift for that next party you're invited to, if you buy the right one. The wrong one though, could be disastrous.

Not all Christmas plants are created equally, and while some may last for years and years, others will be done for before the snow melts. Picking the right plant for the right person can go a long way towards making sure your gift is truly loved.

Choosing Christmas plants

When choosing a plant for someone else, you'll want to consider the plants care, probable lifetime and the gardening desires of the person you're buying for. Many people love the holiday colors but have no desire for a plant that will live for years. Others are simply heartbroken by something that will shortly die off and would prefer a long lived plant. Also, if they have pets, their pets could end up sick from the wrong plant. It's important to take all that into consideration when choosing a plant as a gift.

How to choose a Christmas plant

Poinsettias: The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is actually a shrub or small tree which can reach up to 12 feet in height when grown in tropical conditions. It is originally from southern Mexico and comes in a multitude of colors. Red is the most popular. The red parts of the poinsettia are not actually the flower but rather modified leaves called bracts. The flowers are small and yellow and they are situated in the middle of the colored bracts. Chose a plant that has these small flowers on it. The poinsettia will already be in full color when purchased.

  • Plant Care: Poinsettias are easy to keep alive. They like full sun and only lightly moist soil. Water sparingly when soil is dry to the touch. They will turn completely green during the spring and summer. They can be forced back into their colorful state for the holidays again by limiting their artificial light starting in October. Poinsettias can live for years. 
  • What to consider: Very easy to care for, and keep alive. Not as easy to make "bloom" again, but very possible. Many people throw these away after the holidays though.

poinsettia plant |  Christmas

Amaryllis: The amaryllis is a flowering bulb from south Africa. (Amaryllis belladonna) An amaryllis will have several long thin leaves and 1 or 2 leafless stems, each producing 2-12 flowers. The flowers come in many colors but white and red are most common around the holidays. An amaryllis is generally purchased in the flower bud stage, but may already be blooming. Each stem only blooms once.

  • Plant Care: An amaryllis is easy to keep alive but the cycle of blooming and dormancy can be confusing. After it's initial holiday blooms, the amaryllis will appear to die off. After the leaves have completely dried up and fallen off, it will start to sprout again. These leaves will grow quite long but will not produce a flower stalk. This set of leaves will live through summer then die off in fall. Amaryllis likes a slightly damp, not wet soil until dormancy. If you allow the bulb to fall dormant in fall, it will bloom again for the holidays. Here are my instructions for Forcing Your Amaryllis To Bloom Again
  • What to consider: Very easy to keep alive, not as easy to make bloom again, though it will continue to grow. Many people toss these after the holidays. 

Amaryllis bulb | Christmas plant

Christmas Cactus: A flowering succulent from south Africa with flat, segmented stems. The Christmas cactus comes in many colors and unlike most other holiday plants, all of the colors are readily available in stores.
  • Plant Care: Since the Christmas cactus is a tropical plant not a true cactus, it likes a moderately moist soil with occasional deep watering's. Very easy to prune and care for. It needs about 8 weeks of cool temperatures and only natural daylight to produce blooms for Christmas. 
  • What to consider: Fairly easy to care for. Almost anyone can keep it alive. A little more difficult to get to bloom. Can live for several years. Good for someone who keeps house plants. 

Christmas cactus

Paperwhites: Paperwhites produce small daffodil like cluster of snowy white flowers atop graceful green stems that can be over a foot tall! Each stem produces 4-8 flowers. As you've seen on this list so far, getting plants to bloom in winter generally requires some 'forcing' and paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) are no different. Luckily though, they require no more then some potting soil and/or water and they'll do the rest. Chances are if you buy paperwhites in a container they'll be all ready to start blooming.
  • Plant Care: Paperwhites are native to the Mediterranean region. They require nothing more then water to bloom, though many are planted in soil. They have a growing pattern very similar to the amaryllis but even when following the same schedule, they cannot be forced to bloom indoors a second time. They can be transplanted outside in USDA zones 8-10.
  • What to consider: Super easy to care for during the holidays, almost zero chance of getting another set of blooms out of them after being forced. Can only be planted outside in warmer regions. Depending what zone you're in, these are probably a throwaway plant. Good for non-gardeners as they are easy to keep for the short time they are blooming.

paperwhites for Christmas

Rosemary Topiary: Who doesn't love the smell of rosemary? This is one plant that all cooks love to get because it really is just a rosemary bush (Rosemarinus officinalis), pruned into a Christmas tree shape. 

  • Plant Care: Rosemary likes a lot of light and humidity. I find that misting a few times a week with a plant sprayer in addition to weekly watering will keep a rosemary in good condition indoors. A topiary, though much fancier and festive looking, requires no more care then a regular rosemary herb plant. Can be transplanted to the garden in summer, though rosemary is only winter hardy below zone 8.
  • What to consider: The cooking fanatic in your life will appreciate this! Most anyone can keep this herb alive year round indoors, though it may loose it shape with out continuous shaping. Great for herb growers and indoor gardeners. 

Potted Pine tree: I have seen many different varieties of pine, but it's just a small Christmas tree in a pot. Sometimes these are decorated with ornaments, garland and lights and other times just a simple bow or nothing at all. They are living trees that can be planted outdoors when the weather warms up, depending on growing zone.
  • Plant Care: Pine trees require minimal care which will be described on the accompanying tag. Some need to be transplanted outside during spring. Generally the root ball is a pretty tight fit in the pot, and the tree will eventually end up dying if not given more room to grow if kept inside. Requires 6-8 hours of bright light each day, so keep near a window. 
  • What to consider: Cute gift for somebody with yard space and the desire to plant trees. Check tags before buying as many varieties are not hardy in all zones. Some, like the Dwarf Alberta Spruce or Norfolk Pine do well indoors but will need a bit of space as they grow since they can get quite tall. Consider the giftees planting possibilities when selecting a variety.

living pine tree | Christmas

Christmas Orchid: Orchids are widely available at the holidays. The name Christmas Orchid is a catchall name for various orchids. Many different colors are available in stores.
  • Plant Care: Contrary to popular belief, orchids do not need a ton of water. In fact, they can get root rot from being too wet. They like to be slightly moist but not wet. Place in a draft free area out of direct sunlight. They often come in decorative containers that are not appropriate for long term care. The orchid will need new living conditions, but wait till after the blooms have died or the shock will cause the flowers to wilt and die. 
  • What to consider: Orchids are a little harder to care for then many houseplants. They often require re potting and do well with high humidity and exposed roots, so not for every climate. With good care they can live and bloom for many years. 

Christmas orchid buying

Holly: While holly isn't as common as many other holiday plants, you may still see it in garden stores. There are several colors available from green to striped green and white, with berries and without. In many varieties only the female plants produce berries, but with hundreds of different species it's hard to generalize. Glossy, alternate leaves with a spiny leaf margin and small red fruits. In other words, yes those are thorns on the leaves. The fruits naturally ripen in winter making them one of the few holiday plants that don't need forced.
  • Plant Care: Water regularly. Most holly's like lots of sun and slightly moist, well drained soil. 
  • What to consider: Depending on which zone you live in and the exact holly you buy, it may be able to be transplanted outside. Can be kept indoors, but probably will not continue to produce berries. 

Holly plant | Christmas flower

Air plants: In the last few years, I have seen a lot of air plants for sale during the holidays. Generally they're in glass terrariums and decorated to look like Christmas tree ornaments. The care tags on them usually say to only mist with water.

  • Plant care: Unfortunately the tags on many holiday air plant decorations are misleading. Air plants require different care then they often say. Here's How To Properly Care For Air Plants. Many of these terrariums have the air plants glued into place. Without being able to remove it, you can't care for it properly. With proper care, air plants can live for years.
  • What to consider: If the plant is glued in place, it will die within a few months. If it is glued in place and you try to remove it, it will probably damage the plant and it will die anyway. If it is not glued in place, it only requires a weekly soak to keep it growing.

air plant | terrarium | Christmas

Cut flowers/evergreen branch floral arrangements: Roses and evergreens are a classic Christmas combination. Obviously these are all cut flowers so they will only last about a week. The evergreen branches will last much longer.
  • Plant care: Change water in vases every few days, removing leaves below the water line. If the arrangement has a floral block inside, make sure it stays wet.
  • What to consider: Perfect for holiday decor without commitment. Great for just about everyone, though serious gardeners will probably prefer something they can care for long after the holidays have passed. 

Buying tips: Pick a healthy plant without wilted leaves. Check for signs of illness or pest infestation. Soil shouldn't be bone dry, nor should it be soaking wet. Make sure the plant is wrapped and protected before leaving the store. Go straight home after buying your plant. Letting it sit in a cold car while you finish shopping can shock it. These are almost all tropical plants and have thus far lived in a greenhouse and a store, they are in no way prepared for bitter cold. Check plant tag for exact care directions as many holiday plants have several species and some require different care.

One last thing to consider: If the person your gifting the plant to has pets, you'll want to consider toxicity. Check out this Complete Veterinary Guide To Poisonous Houseplants before deciding what to buy.

~L

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