Last-minute? Gift a holiday plant

Photo submitted to Times Observer Christmas cactus.

In this busy gift buying and gift giving season a holiday plant makes a wonderful present for almost anyone. It is a beautiful gift that can be enjoyed as part of the holiday decor in any home. I have a Christmas cactus that blooms profusely every holiday. When I see it bloom I never fail to remember the dear friend who gave it to me.

The traditional poinsettia is always a good choice. These beautiful plants come in many colors and sizes. Poinsettias are not poisonous. I don’t know why this myth persists but we hear it every holiday season. Place the tropical poinsettia in a sunny window. To keep the poinsettia in bloom maintain a temperature of 65-70 degrees and do not over water. People often ask how they can bring their poinsettia back into bloom next year. It is a very exacting process and it is much easier to start fresh next season.

The Christmas cactus is a favorite easy to grow houseplant. It is not unusual to pass these plants down from generation to generation. I have a very old plant that always rewards the family with lovely pinky red flowers. It is easy to get them to bloom for the holiday season. In spring after danger of frost is over I put mine outside in a shady place. In fall before the first frost I treat them with horticultural soap to kill the spiders that love them and bring them back inside. Over the growing season nature will provide the ideal amount of light and they will soon be in full bloom. If you can’t put your plant outside then in September and October keep the plant in a cool room of 50 degrees, with no artificial light at night. Christmas cactus live so long repotting can be neglected. If your plant is not blooming, repot in good sterile potting soil in the spring and put it outside for its summer vacation.

Amaryllis are a lovely holiday flower and make a wonderful hostess gift. The big box stores usually sell kits at this time of year. Plant the bulb up to its neck in nutritious potting soil. Water sparingly until the stem appears. In general blubs will flower in 7 to 10 weeks. Amaryllis bulbs can be kept year to year. Allow the leaves to fully develop and continue to water through the summer. In autumn, when leaves yellow, cut the leaves back to about 2 inches above the bulb. Remove the bulb from the soil and store in a cool dark place for 6 weeks. Plant again in sterile potting soil for holiday bloom.

The biggest holiday plant is most people’s home is the Christmas tree.

If you get your tree from a Christmas tree lot of already cut trees, remove about 2 inches from the stem. The stem of the tree makes a callus which will keep it from taking up water. Place the tree in a bucket of water to help prevent needle drop.

A tree placed near a heat source will dry out quickly and an open flame like a candle or fireplace could make it a fire hazard. Check carefully any lights you want to use on the tree. Discard any that are damaged.

Live plants can make a home come alive. At this dark and often stormy time of year the season of flowers seems very far away.

Holiday plants will transform your lovely decorations into a display of living beauty.