In all the glitter and glam of the marketplace, don’t forget that plants can brighten the holidays, too. Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) come in an ever-increasing number of forms and shades of red, white, pink, and cream. Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera hybrid) used to come in just one lovely magenta shade that bloomed reliably at Christmas time, but there are white, pale pink, and deeper red selections these days. Both of these plants are great candidates to bring indoors for the season. They require little water and can stand the prolonged period of reduced light while they grace your interior. Just remember to keep them hydrated and move them outside as soon as possible. Especially with poinsettias, don’t put them in the way of heat registers where they can dry out too quickly. Cool corners will keep them looking their best the longest.
Other useful accent plants are florist’s cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum). The native species has a lot of variation in flower color from white through pale pink to deep pink. Recent selections expand that range to crimson, salmon, and purple. Indoors, they can hold their elegant blooms for the entire season and then can be planted outside for years of enjoyment. Excellent drainage is required to carry them through their leafless, dormant season during the summer. Cyclamen do best with some shade, making them great candidates for that dry shady spot near native oaks and other water sensitive plants.
Paper white bulbs (Narcissus ‘Paper White’ is a Tazetta type hybrid) naturally bloom this time of year in the ground or in pots. They are intensely fragrant and lend cheer during these dark days. Bring pots in for a short period of time after flower stems have emerged with buds. Kept in a dim room for too long, they will continue to seek the sun and become too top heavy, ruining their perky good looks. They can also be planted outside after the holidays and continue to grace the garden for many years. Gophers and deer alike will leave them alone, another attractive feature. Another bulbous species that shows up in garden centers in winter is Hippeastrum, commonly called amaryllis. There are many cultivars on the market and they are sold either as dry bulbs or potted specimens. There are brilliant scarlet ones and many other handsome selections striped with cream or green. If you purchase a potted one during the holidays, be aware that it has probably been forced for delivery as a blooming plant for this season. If left alone to grow and bloom again, it may revert to a normal bloom time (usually in spring) in one to two years.
A quintessential herb for that turkey stuffing, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) has been appearing in another, ornamental, form of late. Tolerant of repeated shearing and shaping, rosemary plants are now gracing the holiday scene as miniature Christmas trees and wreaths. A ribbon here, some glittery balls there and they look for all the world like their evergreen, coniferous counterparts. Although they can last for several seasons in their original pots, they will eventually need to be moved to larger sized pots or have their roots pruned to remain in a small size. They are very tough and can stand dry and darker than normal conditions for quite a while. Do keep them watered; one of the easiest ways to water any holiday plant is to turn out a handful or whole tray full of ice cubes onto the surface of the soil, depending on the pot size. They will melt slowly and minimize drips from their drainage holes. Use plastic liners to remove all worry, but check periodically to make sure that the pots are not standing in water. None of these plants will tolerate soggy soil for very long.
Those are some traditional choices from our marketing friends, but take a stroll through your garden center and you may come up with some lovely, live holiday decorations of your own. How about a few little red-tinged, potted succulents tucked into those greens on the mantle. Create a living wreath with red and green lettuces in a wire frame. If you long for the frigid shades of the far north, select some frosty looking plants such as blue fescue (Festuca glauca selections) or the succulent blue chalk sticks (Senecio mandraliscae). Plants come in so many colors and shapes; they can enhance any decorating scheme.