Using Living Plants in
Holiday Decorations this Year

Lisha Utt
Frederick County Master Gardener Program

I love using living plants in my holiday decorations and there are many choices available. Below are a few suggestions to get you started.

Let's begin with poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherima) no doubt the most popular Christmas plant. 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, enjoy average warmth and should be watered thoroughly and leaves misted frequently. But though poinsettias are beautiful alone they can be even more beautiful when grouped with other blooming and non-blooming plants. Consider mixing your poinsettia with ferns or ivy for added texture. Or mix with a kalanchoe or Christmas cactus in a complimentary color. The possibilities are endless. 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."

A favorite of mine for holiday decorating (and gift giving as well) are tabletop evergreens. Tabletop evergreens are available in several varieties and can vary greatly in size. I like to use those in 4" and 6" pots. These tiny trees are perfect for a mantel or grouped together for an interesting centerpiece. They can be placed in attractive holiday containers or the plastic pots can be covered with cut evergreens. These trees are also fun for children to decorate and have in their rooms for their own special tree.

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.

Let's not forget ivy and ivy topiaries. Ivy is a great houseplant all year round but can be especially useful during the holidays. It can be mixed in with the table top evergreens on a mantel or use to fill a bright red basket for a simple hostess gift and of course mixed with poinsettias as mentioned above. Ivy topiaries come in many shapes but the tree shaped are especially fun this time of year. Add little white lights and some ribbon and you have a great decoration that will last well beyond the holidays. Ivy likes the soil to be evenly moist and prefers filtered sun. Ivy also benefits from periodic rinsing of the leaves with water or water and a little soap to remove dust and help keep pests away.

And how about the Christmas cactus (Zygocactus truncatus). These plants are also very popular this time of year and come with white, pink, red or purple flowers. They typically bloom between mid-November and late January. These special plants are beautiful by themselves or mixed with others in seasonal baskets or arrangements. While the cactus are normally purchased in bloom, with care they can be made to re-bloom again the next Christmas. February and March is their resting period. They should be kept cool (55̊ F) and watered infrequently. April and May treat the plant normally, watering thoroughly when the soil starts to dry out. June to mid-September the cactus can be kept outdoors in a shady spot protected from slugs. Mid-September to mid-November keep the plant dryish and cool until flower buds form. Mid-November to January water normally and keep at a minimum temperature of 55 F.

And finally consider the indoor blooming bulbs, paperwhites (narcissus tazetta) and amaryllis (Hippeastrum hybrida). These bulbs can be used in so many different ways. The paperwhites with their pure white petals and sweet fragrance brighten up any holiday arrangement where they are included. The amaryllis, the "granddaddy" of indoor flowering bulbs, is available in a variety of colors, white, pink, red, orange, purple, solid color or edged or striped in another shade. They can make a wonderful centerpiece or stunning mantel when grouped with low growing ferns and ivy or cut greens. Both these types of bulbs can be purchased in growing kits or alone.

These are just a few of the many living plants that can be used in your holiday decorating. So get those creative juices flowing and bring a little of the garden indoors.

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