“The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cottons into its winter wools.”
— Henry Beston
Nature has flipped the switch on the seasons, leaving the gardens to be frozen stubble fields of flat browns and greys. It will be winter soon.
However, though our weather outside may soon be frightful, it’s still possible to add cheer to the indoors with gifts of plants.
Here are five popular ones, how to care for them and, in my experience, whether it may be better to keep or discard them once the holidays pass.
Florists’ Cyclamen have been showing up recently in grocery stores and garden centers. They have brightly colored white, pink, purple or red flowers with swept-back petals that look like shooting stars and heart-shaped leaves with silvery patterns.
Because they are native to the Mediterranean climate, they naturally bloom in the fall, winter and spring in cool damp weather. In the hot dry summer they become dormant, storing energy for future flowering in their round tubers.
According to the Cyclamen Society, it is best to try to replicate their natural environment by having them in environments with temperatures as cool as 40 degrees Fahrenheit at night to 60s during the day. Place them close to a bright south-, east- or west-facing window to get maximum filtered light (but not too much direct sunlight) and water them when they begin to get dry. In order to keep them blooming, remove any yellowed and withered leaves, spent flowers and round seed capsules.
Though it may be tricky, they can be kept to rebloom. In the spring, let the soil dry out, keep the pot in a cool dry place for the summer months and in the early fall put the plant back in a cool, bright window and begin rewatering.
Holiday cacti are fascinating plants, with starburst flowers in colors ranging from white to yellow, orange, apricot, salmon, pink, red, scarlet or magenta. They are true cacti, according to the University of Connecticut Extension, and have three common species: the Thanksgiving cactus, Christmas cactus and Easter cactus. Their names come from the holiday closest to their traditional bloom dates (though they now have a longer blooming period, thanks to hybridization). They can be identified by the shape of their “leaves,” which are actually flattened stem segments. Their natural habitat is the Brazilian rainforest. There they grow on high branches of tropical trees.
Care during the holidays is quite easy. They need bright but filtered light. They can be watered when dry to the touch and need good drainage so should not sit in water-filled saucers. It is not necessary to repot them frequently; every three years is sufficient with potting mixes high in organic matter. Plants can be pruned in late spring to encourage branching, and they can be propagated.
If your holiday cactus has not rebloomed, you are not alone. There are requirements of light and temperature, and many factors influence bud formation. I appreciate mine for its lovely greenery and sporadic, though sparse, blooms through the years.
Rosemary is a lovely fragrant evergreen herb with woody stems and needle-like leaves that is native to the Mediterranean. In warmer climates it can be grown as a shrub. One of my friends grew one in the ground for many years in her Maryland yard.
This time of year it is often sheared and sold in pots to look like a topiary or tree. It is popular because of both its scent and its use in savory stews and roasts, as well as an accent or specimen plant.
University of Illinois Extension suggests that rosemary be placed in a cool (even cold) sunny location where the humidity is high. It dries out quickly indoors, causing brown leaf tips, so it may be wise to place it on a pebble-filled saucer of water. It can also be misted frequently, but the soil should be kept on the dry side. It does not grow a lot in the winter months.
Rosemary in pots can be put outside again to be used as porch plants once the temperatures warm.
Amaryllis are beautiful exotic-looking trumpet shaped flowers 4 to 10 inches in size growing on 1- to 2-foot leafless stalks that are sold as bare or planted bulbs. They add lots of drama to homes during the holidays and are good for beginning gardeners.
The University of Minnesota Extension explains that these plants are native to Peru and South America where some have been known to bloom for up to 75 years. Popular bloom colors are red and white, but they can also be pink, salmon, apricot, deep burgundy or bicolor.
A popular way of selling the bare bulb is with a wax coating that contains all the moisture and nutrients that it requires to bloom. It needs no watering, just turning so that the stalk keeps growing straight. Having been gifted a waxed red amaryllis a few years’ ago, I can attest to the fact that it works and produces a long-lasting bloom.
Amaryllis bulbs can be saved, continue to grow, and bloom again, but ones with waxed bulbs are only good for one holiday season.
Poinsettias are arguably the most popular holiday plants. They come in red and white, of course, but some are also labeled as princettia (with smaller bracts), fleursettias (red encircled with white mums), as well as crystal and painted in many exotic shades (and this was a partial selection at the neighborhood grocery store).
The poinsettia was originally grown by the Aztecs from the 14th to 16th centuries. In Mexico and Guatemala, the plant is known as the flower of the holy night, or Christmas Eve.
When purchasing a plant, request that it be covered before leaving the store so that lower temperatures do not damage the leaves. At home, place it in a sunny window with temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees. Check the soil daily and water when it seems dry.
It is difficult, though not impossible, to get poinsettias to rebloom. Many gift recipients choose to discard their plants once they eventually finish blooming.
These are all wonderful gift plants that are sure to provide colorful accents to holiday gatherings.
Poinsettias are used in hanging baskets at Longwood Gardens. Photo by Lora Gauss/For the Gazette.