Plants to Give as Holiday Gifts

Lisha Utt
Frederick County Master Gardener Program

I enjoy giving "living gifts" and there are many flowering plants that can be grown and enjoyed indoors. They belong to a category of houseplants called "flowering pot plants", i.e. plants that bloom for a specific time period and then are moved away when the flowering is through. Flowering pot plants are best considered a long lasting substitute for cut flowers instead of a house plant with a very short life. Many have blooms lasting 4-7 weeks, some even longer. If the flowers die or leaves fade within days something is wrong. In general, flowering pot plants need bright, cool conditions and moist soil. Warm air is usually their biggest enemy.

Below I've described the care requirements of four of the more popular flowering plants found this time of year.

Chrysanthemums come in a large variety of colors and should last 6-8 weeks. Bright light is crucial for these plants. They enjoy cool temperatures, 50 - 60 F ideally. They should be moist at all times and the leaves misted from time to time. The frost hardy chrysanthemum varieties can be planted in your garden and enjoyed next year.

Rosa (miniature roses) are lovely but can be difficult to maintain indoors. They need lots of light, airy conditions, high humidity and plenty of water. The leaves should be misted frequently and the plant put on a pebble tray if the room is warm. Allow the rose to dry out a little between watering. Miniature roses seem to work best if they are treated like an outdoor plant and brought inside for the flowering. To do so repot in the autumn and transfer the plant outdoors. The transfer outside is easier if the pot is just buried in the ground. Bring the rose indoors in mid-winter and remove the top half of the stems. Keep in an unheated spot for a week or two before placing in a heated room.

Cyclamen (cyclamen persicum) are one of the most popular winter flowering pot plants and with the appropriate care can last several months. They do best in a north facing window and do no like direct sun. Cyclamen prefer cool temperatures, 50 - 60 F ideally, and higher humidity. To increase the humidity stand the pot on a pebble try filled with water or set the plant in a larger pot surrounded with damp peat. Cyclamen should be kept moist at all times and only watered by the immersion method. The immersion method involves setting the plant in a bowl of water so that the cyclamen takes the water from the bottom up until the surface glistens. Do not allow water to touch the crown. When the cyclamen has finished its bloom, reduce watering and stop feeding. Place the pot on its side and keep dry until midsummer. Then repot with fresh compost, planting the tuber to half its depth. Stand in a cool, well-lit spot and water to keep moist.

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) has become a popular symbol of Christmas. The flowers which are really colored bracts, last between 2-6 months and come in an increasing variety of colors from white to pink to red, even purple. They require maximum light during the winter. They enjoy average warmth, should be watered thoroughly and leaves misted frequently. Poinsettia are usually thrown away but can be kept and planted in the garden for an annual foliage plant, or with some "extra" work and a little luck can be kept to bloom again next Christmas. For details on getting your poinsettia to bloom again call the Cooperative Extension Service's Home and Garden Center and ask for the informational pamphlet entitled "Holiday Plant Care Series: Poinsettia."

And finally one other category of plants you might want to consider this holiday season, miniature evergreens. These tiny trees are available in several varieties and are great to use on table tops, mantels, porches and patios. They like to be kept evenly moist while they are inside for the season. Many are hardy in this area and can be planted in your garden or in a container on your front porch to enjoy year after year.

Plants are always wonderful gifts to give or receive and can provide spirit lifting color and brightness, especially in the gray of winter. It's always fun to bring a little of the garden indoors. Happy Gardening!!

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