With the pandemic putting toys and other holiday gifts in short supply this year, you may want to consider some living alternatives for those on your gift list.
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 and combinations – even spotted and speckled 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 another good choice. 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 means it may bloom anytime from Halloween through spring. How to tell the difference? True Christmas cactus have rounded edges on their stems, while holiday cactus will have serrated looking edges. 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.
Cyclamen have been gaining in popularity in recent years and for good reason. These plants come in a range of colors and sometimes have a light scent. The newer and more interesting varieties are frilly on the edges or have interesting color combinations. They come in a full size plant that is usually available in a 6″ pot or a miniature, usually sold in a 4″ pot. Be careful on your watering with this plant- you don’t want to rot their corm, similar to a bulb, from which the plant grows. Water from the bottom if possible, watering from the top only every 4-5th time. 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. Paperwhites are very fragrant and a few 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.
If you have shut ins or elderly on your list, consider a wreath for them. 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 an anti-dessicant to help it retain moisture 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.
With so many of the traditional gifts in short supply and the shipping issues everyone is facing this season, it may be the perfect year to switch to a living gift instead that will not only be bright and blooming through the holidays, but will last well into the new year too.