Holiday Plants to Make You Happy!

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The colorful and natural living reminders of the season are now here to bring smiles that may be in short supply these days. Plants make wonderful holiday gifts and they bring a bit of nature indoors too. Share some of the holiday spirit with a few winter-blooming favorites. Deck the halls (and tables) with some natural red, green, white – and even bright pinks too. Showcasing the classics like poinsettias and holly with berries alongside a few lesser-known but interesting flowering plants tell your loved ones they are in your thoughts, especially if you can’t be there in person. Many of these plants come complete with Christmas legends.

The Lenten Rose (Hellebore spp), while not a rose, is one of the few perennial flowers that make a statement at this time of the year and bloom into early spring. They come in creamy whites, pinks, and purples of different intensities, some single flowering, and some sporting double blooms. These are generally very hardy plants that do well in shaded areas to brighten the landscape. Some also bring unusual foliage for even more interest after the flowers are spent.

Don’t forget the bulbs. Blooming Amaryllis (Hippeastrum), and Paperwhites (Narcissus) make great gifts that come back again and again – indoor and out – depending on how they are cared for. Another favorite in our house is the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgessii) which is a succulent, but not a cactus. It’s oh-so-easy to propagate and share that we all have offspring from the “mother” plant going back generations.

Next on my wish list is the jewel tones of the cyclamen. With beautiful and unusual upswept petals in whites, pinks, and purples standing above brilliant silver and green leaves it can go from the house to the garden here in our planting zone.

Local Poinsettias

Local Poinsettias Photo by M. Daughtry

While we associate poinsettia with winter holidays, it originates in Mexico where it grows as a 10-15 feet tall perennial shrub, and it doesn’t like cold temperatures. Temperatures below 55°F will damage this tropical plant – so unlike a few of the other plants mentioned, it and the Christmas cactus are definitely a houseplant here. By using a few practical methods, they are easy to care for plants that will last for the entire holiday, and then some.

Place the plants in a well-lit location where the lighting is indirect. Most of these plants generally do best at the same temperatures we keep our homes in the winter – from 60 to 68°F, but kept away from direct sun, drafts, and heating sources like vents or radiators.

Remember that your heating system is also pulling humidity out of the air as well,  so be sure to check the moisture to the plant roots. You’ll want to water when the surface of the potting soil feels dry so check the plant’s moisture level every few days by inserting a fingertip into the soil. If it feels dry beneath the surface, water thoroughly, letting it drain for a few minutes. Even if your plants come in pretty plastic wrapping and bows, don’t let the pot sit in water! Not only will the “aroma” of that water be far from pleasantly fragrant, but the roots will drown and you’ll lose the plant. Good drainage is critical. No roots, no plant.

Whether your place gets decorated like the Christmas shop for the holidays or you prefer simple, well-chosen pieces to brighten your day, these “Happy Holiday” plants and flowers can be found at local nurseries and greenhouses where the grower can tell you exactly how to care for them to get extra life from your wintertime decor. When giving a plant as a gift, it is always helpful to include care instructions.

If cared for properly, gift plants can brighten someone’s life for months to come so share some holiday cheer with beautiful plants and heartwarming stories. To read more about these plants look them up on the North Carolina Extension Gardner Plant Toolbox.

Minda Daughtry is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.