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Musings on Holiday Plants

Musings on Holiday Plants

By Therese Ciesinski, GardenSMART

Of all the decorations I put up around my house at Christmas, my favorites are the live plants. They bring a freshness and vibrance to the indoors that non-living decorations, no matter how sparkly or pretty, do not.

Over the years I’ve grown many plants typically offered at Christmas and have liked some more than others. Amaryllis and paperwhites are my go-tos, the first for its large, dramatic flowers, the second for its fragrance. I like the new sizes and colors of poinsettias more than the lovely (but ubiquitous) shrubby red ones, so they’re now back in the mix.

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From experience and research I’ve learned a few things about holiday plants that have helped me choose which ones to buy and how to care for them after the holidays are over.

Paperwhites:

A great living gift for non-gardeners. They will have the enjoyment of watching a plant grow and bloom, but since paperwhites don’t rebloom, there’s no long-term care. Paperwhites are heavily scented, so avoid giving them as gifts to people who are sensitive to fragrances. The stems usually have to be supported or they will fall over.

Tabletop trees:

Little tabletop “trees” – actually cypress, arborvitae, or Alberta spruce – can be nurtured through the winter and planted outside in the spring. Be aware that while they may be described as dwarf plants, once in the ground they won’t stay at their indoor size; they’ll get bigger.

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Norfolk Island pine:

A tropical evergreen that can get to 100 feet tall outdoors. Indoors it can reach 20 feet in height. A small one makes a cute Christmas tree that can become a houseplant after the holidays. Its branches can’t support heavy decorations or a standard string of lights, however. Use mini-lights and don’t leave them on the plant year-round.

Amaryllis:

In zones 8-10 you can plant the bulb outside and it should eventually rebloom. Amaryllis that stay indoors as houseplants will also rebloom, though it might take a few years. It won’t bloom again at Christmastime, but in summer, and the flowers will likely be smaller. Remove the stems after bloom so the plant doesn’t set seed. Amaryllis are another flower with stems that need support to keep them from falling over.

Christmas cactus:

An easy plant to get to rebloom, which it will do at the same time every year. Extremely long-lived and easy to care for, as long as you don’t overwater. Overwatering, lack of light, and moving the plant while in bud can cause the buds to fall off.

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Care for holiday plants:

  • Never let a plant sit in water. If it is in a decorative plastic sleeve, be sure to drain that, too.
  • Keep plants away from heating vents, open windows, candles, fireplaces, and hot or cold drafts.
  • Most plants like air that’s a bit humid.
  • Don’t let the leaves or flowers of any plant touch cold window glass.
  • Keeping a room on the cool side (60s), especially at night, will extend the life of the flowers.

When buying plants at a store:

  • Even if it’s just chilly, don’t take a plant into the cold unless it’s wrapped up.
  • Avoid buying plants altogether if it’s really cold or there’s a sharp wind and you have to walk to your car. This goes triple if you’re buying an orchid.
  • Make plant buying your last stop. Don’t leave plants in a cold or hot car.
  • Need a last-minute gift? Try your supermarket florist. They have lots of holiday plants at reasonable prices.

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After the holidays:

Plants that are difficult to get to rebloom: poinsettia, cyclamen, kalanchoe, gardenia, Christmas pepper.

Plants that won’t rebloom: paperwhites and spring-blooming bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths.

Plants that have been spray-painted or covered in glitter – usually poinsettias – may not thrive long-term, since the leaves can’t adequately photosynthesize under the coating.


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