Christmas Plants Around the World

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Christmas plants differ according to region. Source; laidbackgardener.blog

The most popular Christmas plant in North America is certainly the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). There is scarcely a store that doesn’t sell them or a home that isn’t decorated with one. But there are other Christmas plants, including Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera spp.), Christmas kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana), amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.), Christmas pepper (Capsicum annuum), Jerusalem cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum), frosted fern (Selaginella martensii ‘Frosty’), Norfolk island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) and, more recently, wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens).

Christmas trees are popular all over North America, too. Fir trees (Abies spp.) are the biggest sellers, but Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii), spruces (Picea spp.) and pines (Pinus spp.) are widely used.

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Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). Source: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz

The Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) was once commonly used in Christmas wreathes, garlands and centerpieces in Eastern North America, as it has evergreen fronds that last all winter and are thus available at Christmastime, but its star has waned considerably. It’s just too easy to find longer-lasting artificial or preserved foliage for such use these days. The Christmas fern still makes a great garden plant for shady spots and is hardy to zone 3.

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Winterberry (Ilex verticillata Berry Poppins®). Source: Proven Winners

The branches of winterberry (Ilex verticillata) have fared better over time and are still widely used. This deciduous holly, native to eastern North America, is leafless at Christmas, but its branches are covered with bright red berries that create great swaths of color in Christmas arrangements. You can grow them yourself (the shrub is hardy to zone 3 and you will need to include at least one male plant in your planting to pollinate the berry-bearing females), but you can also buy branches in florist shops … including fake ones, unfortunately.

That covers most of the plants associated with Christmas in North America, but Christmas plants differ around the world. Let’s take a look at what’s going on elsewhere.

Europe

In general, the plants featured in the first paragraph—poinsettias, Christmas cactus, Christmas kalanchoe, etc.—are also popular in Europe, although the poinsettia, even though it is not rare per se, is not as popular as on this side of the Atlantic. But there are other plants associated with Christmas (and New Year’s Day) that are more specific to Europe.

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Holly (Ilex aquifolium): more popular in Europe than in North America. Source: AnemoneProjectors, Wikiimedia Commons

For example, holly (Ilex aquifolium) is a European shrub or tree with spiny-edged, shiny, leathery, evergreen leaves and red berries and is grown in many Old World gardens. True enough, holly is available on a limited basis in North America too (although are mostly seem either on Christmas cards or as sprigs of plastic leaves), but nothing to the extent to which it is used in Europe, where, in some countries, sprigs of holly are found on nearly every window ledge and doorway. This tradition has come to be seen as a sign of welcome, but is in fact based a centuries-old belief that putting holly on all possible entranceways would prevent evil spirits from invading the home.

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Mistletoe is no longer as common as it once was. Source: mistletoematters.wordpress.com

Kissing under the mistletoe during the Christmas season is a very old European tradition and can be traced back to the time of the Druids, who laid down arms and exchanged greetings under the mistletoe, considered to be a very sacred plant. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows on tree branches, counting on sap it absorbs from its host for its survival. European mistletoe (Viscum album)—with its translucent round white berries—is the original variety to kiss under.

The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe was brought over to the New World and thrived for awhile, but now appears to be dying out. Certainly mistletoe is now only available very locally in North America: I haven’t seen a sprig of it in years! It’s still widely used in Europe during the holiday season.

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English ivy (Hedera helix) used in a wreath. Source: bcinvasives.ca

English ivy (Hedera helix) is a traditional Christmas plant in Europe, widely used in holiday garlands and wreaths. Think of the carol The Holly and the Ivy, for example. And why not, since this evergreen climber grows abundantly everywhere on that continent and so is readily available! The tradition of using ivy as a Christmas decoration never caught on in North America, probably because ivy is neither native nor widely grown, though it has escaped from culture to become abundant in a few areas. Harvesting ivy for Christmas decorations is something that could be encouraged as a control measure in areas (mostly on the US West Coast) where ivy is proving to be a pernicious weed.

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The Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) is a stunning early bloomer… but only blooms at Christmas in mild climates. Source: 4028mdk09, Wikimedia Commons

The Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) is not a rose (Rosa spp.) at all, of course, but a perennial. It’s a traditional Christmas plant in southeastern Europe, notably in areas where Orthodox Church is the common religion. Orthodox Christmas takes place about two weeks later than in Western rites, around January 7. And this very early perennial is usually in bloom by then. Although mainly used in flower beds or naturalized in woodlands, it’s also sold as a gift plant at that season.

Elsewhere in Europe and pretty much everywhere in North America, this plant flowers too late to be a Christmas plant. Where I live, it isn’t even in bloom at Easter … it’s more like a Mother’s Day plant!

In Europe, the tradition of Christmas trees is well established and often spruce or pine, or even a juniper or other conifer, are used, depending on what is available locally.

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The Yule log tradition has trouble surviving in modern homes, as so many no longer have a functioning fireplace. Source: maeclair.net

The tradition of the Yule log has largely died out in Britain and Central Europe as it has in North America, but in many parts of Europe, notably in Scandanavia and Eastern Europe, it remains deeply entrenched. A Yule log is a very large hardwood log, the idea being to light it on Christmas Eve and have it burn through the night and Christmas Day. In the Balkans, the Yule log is called a badnjak (or budnik, according to the local language) and it is usually an oak, a symbol of longevity. Those who do not have a fireplace to burn a log in often decorate their apartment with twigs of oak.

In France, Belgium and Switzerland, the Yule log (bûche de Noël) has morphed into a log-shaped cake, traditionally served at Christmas … you don’t need a fireplace for that!

Mediterranean and Middle East

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A wreath decorated with pomegranates (Punica granatum). Source: www.clubbotanic.com

The main Christmas plant in this region is the pomegranate (Punica granatum): a perfect choice, as it matures at just the right time of year. Doors, fireplaces, tables, etc. are decorated with pomegranate fruits, both fresh and artificial.

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Butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus). Source: Dominicus Johannes Bergsma, Wikimedia Commons

Two other plants often used in Christmas decorations are the shrubs butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus) and firethorn (Pyracantha spp.), both bearing evergreen foliage and red berries.

In Israel, olive branches (Olea europaea) are offered at Christmas to friends as a symbol of peace.

Mexico

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Flower market full of poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) in Mexico just before Christmas. Source: casita-colibri.blog

The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is native to Mexico and is popular in there, where it’s known as flor de Nochebuena (Christmas Eve flower). Butcher’s broom and firethorn, brought over from Spain, are also popular, as well as are several local plants that bloom at Christmas.

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Traditional Mexican Christmas punch with floating manzanitas (Crataegus mexicana). Source: http://www.goya.com

Manzanita, also called tejocote or manzanilla (Crataegus mexicana), a large-berried hawthorn, is another plant traditionally used as a Christmas decoration in many parts of Mexico and Central America. The orange fruits may be threaded onto a garland and are also used to make Christmas punch.

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Display of radishes on the Noche de Los Rábanos. Source: AlejandroLinaresGarcia, Wikimedia Commons

One of Mexico’s most curious Christmas traditions, however, is the Night of the Radishes (Noche de Los Rábanos), celebrated in the region of Oaxaca on December 23rd. In it, radishes are carved and arranged into some very impressive displays.

South America

Since most of this continent lies south of the equator, the seasons are inverted and Christmas takes place in summer, not winter. That means traditional Christmas plants of the Northern Hemisphere bloom six months too late for Christmas. As a result, the poinsettia is called “Easter flower” (flor de pascua) in many South American countries, because it blooms at Easter, while our Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) is called “flor de maio” (May flower) in its country of origin, Brazil. Yet there is a Christmas cactus in these countries. The plant we call Easter cactus (Hatiora gaertneri, formerly Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) in the North is the “cactus de Navidad” and blooms at Christmas in much of South America.

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Colored berries of the Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolius). Source: Javier Alejandro, flickr.

South Americans tend to use native plants as cut flowers or holiday plants at the Christmas season. Branches of the Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolius) and its cousin, Peruvian peppertree (S. mollis), known in the north for the pink peppercorns they produce, are often used to decorate churches and houses during the holiday season, as they are loaded with small red berries at that time of year.

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Venezuelan Christmas orchid (Cattleya percivaliana). Source: QuazDelaCruz, Wikimedia Commons

Venezuela has its own Christmas orchid that blooms for the holidays: Cattleya perciviliana. Elsewhere in South America, the usual “orquídea de navidad” is Angraecum sesquipedale, actually native to Madagascar, but widely grown for its large white star-shaped flowers. It’s also called estrella of Belén (star of Bethlehem), but then, so are many other white, star-shaped flowers, including bulbs of the genus Ornithogalum.

In Paraguay, house and Christmas displays are often decorated with “flores de coco,” the long, fragrant inflorescences of a local palm tree, the coyol (Acrocomia aculeata). This pre-Christian tradition comes from the indigenous Guarani people.

Asia

In general, the concept of Christmas is relatively new to this continent and the celebration is mostly a commercial one of American inspiration, so there are often no traditional plants associated with the holiday, at least not long-standing ones. Most are the same Christmas plants seen in North America (poinsettias, Christmas cacti, etc.). Christmas trees, almost nonexistent only 30 years ago, for example, are now seen everywhere, although more often in shopping centers than in private homes. Usually artificial trees are used.

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Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica). Source: http://www.mailordertrees.co.uk

The Christian population in Japan is more firmly established than most in Asia and has solidly adopted the tradition of the Christmas tree, usually a real fir or spruce tree. Heavenly bamboo, Nandina domestica, which is not a bamboo at all, but a shrub, is the second-best-known Christmas plant, with its scarlet fruits and red winter leaves. Chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum morifolium), popular in all seasons in Japan, are widely used at Christmas too.

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Apples stamped with seasonal messages are common Christmas Eve gifts in China. Source: gbtimes.com

In China, an apple wrapped in colored paper or stamped with an appropriate seasonal message is often offered as a gift on Christmas Eve because the word “Christmas Eve,” translated as “night of peace” (Ping’an Ye) in Mandarin, sounds like the word apple (píngguǒ).

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Christmas palm (Adonidia merrillii). Source: palmpedia.ne

In the tropical regions of Asia, the Christmas palm (Adonidia merrillii), better known by its old name, Veitchia merrillii, is widely grown. With its stocky trunk and relatively short fronds, it looks like a dwarf royal palm … and bears bright red fruit at Christmas. Originally from the Philippines and Malaysia, this palm is now grown throughout the tropics.

Finally, in India, the golden Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’) is growing in popularity as a Christmas tree, but otherwise, Christmas is little celebrated in India.

Africa

The traditions of using Christmas plants are more firmly established in South Africa than in the center and north of the continent, brought to this region by European settlers (notably the Dutch and English).

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To Northeners, hortensias (Hydrangea macrophylla) just don’t say Christmas, but it warms the cockles of the heart of South Africans. Source: pxhere

Again, though, with the seasons being inverted, the South African Christmas plants are very different from those in the Northern Hemisphere. Notably, the hortensia (Hydrangea macrophylla), well-known in the North for its summer bloom, is called “Christmas flower” and is by far the most popular Christmas plant!

On the other hand, poinsettias are catching on as well. They have to be specially prepared in order to bloom at Christmas rather than in May, which is when they’d bloom if left on their own. Local nurserymen manage to do this by covering their production greenhouses with black cloth after 4 pm to ensure the short days necessary to stimulate bloom.

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Christmas bells (Sandersonia aurantiaca) are bulbs native to South Africa. Source: http://www.alanjolliffe.com

Various native plants also serve as Christmas plants, such as Christmas bush (Pavetta spp.), Christmas bells (Sandersonia aurantiaca) and Christmas berry (Chironia baccifera). Several plants imported from Australia, which has a similar climate, are also appreciated for their winter bloom. You’ll read more about those below. Africans also celebrate Christmas with many plants that are for us just typical summer flowers, like daisies, roses and zinnias.

Christmas trees are very popular in South Africa, but they use as subjects conifers adapted to local conditions, such as cypress (Cupressus spp., including C. macrocarpa), Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) and various pines (Pinus spp., including P. radiata).

Australia

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The Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) is Australia’s favorite Christmas tree, AlfredSin, flickr

In Australia, the traditional Christmas tree is the native Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla). Grown in mostly as a houseplant in the northern hemisphere, where it rarely exceeds 5 feet (1.5 m) in height, in Australia, it can eventually reach up to 250 feet (65 m) in height, about 20 floors! Other mild-climate conifers from various parts of the world are also used as Christmas trees, including various pines.

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The Australian Christmas tree (Nuytsia floribunda). Source:  JarrahTree, Wikimedia Commons

And Australians have their own Ozzie Christmas tree, Nuytsia floribunda … but it’s not a conifer, but rather a broad-leaved tree. Moreover, it’s a parasitic tree (or rather hemiparasitic tree, since it does carry out its own photosynthesis) that steals most of its water and minerals from nearby plants! The Australian Christmas tree produces frothy spikes of orange-yellow flowers just in time for the holidays.

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One of many Christmas bushes in Australia: Ceratopetalum gummiferum. Source: gdaymateowyagoin, flickr

To add to this, each Australian state seems to have its own “Christmas bush,” always a shrub that produces masses of either flowers or colorful fruits at the right season, including Correa spp., Chromolaena odorata, Ceratopetalum gummiferum and Prosanthera laisanthos. Also, there are many bulbs that bloom at Christmas, including various species of Blandfordia, called “Christmas bells.” And Australia also has its own Christmas orchid: Calanthe triplicata, native to the north of the country

New Zealand

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New Zealand Christmas tree (Meterosideros excelsa). Source: Ed323, Wikimedia Commons

Mention Christmas tree to any New Zealander and they’ll immediately think of Meterosideros excelsa, a rounded broadleaf tree with feathery red flowers at Christmas. It’s called the New Zealand Christmas tree or pōhutukawa. And an introduced bulb from South America (Alstroemeria psittacina), with green-tipped red tubular flowers, has “gone native” and is well-known by locals as New Zealand Christmas bells.


So, wherever you travel around the world, there are always interesting Christmas plants to discover!

If you know of other Christmas plants, do not hesitate to let me know about them at laidbackgardener@gmail.com.20171224A HC.jpg

Golden Monterey Cypress: for Christmas and Beyond

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Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’ decked up in its holiday finest. Source: plantimex.co.za

In the period leading up to the holidays, almost every garden center sells little pots of a small upright, columnar conifer with “golden” (yellow green) needles as a Christmas plant, often in a suitably colored pot or decorated with ribbons or bells.

It’s Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’, the golden Monterey cypress. It’s also called lemon cypress because of the distinct lemony smell it gives off when you run your fingers through its needles.

It’s a selection of the all-green Monterey cypress (C. macrocarpa), today a very rare conifer in the wild, found naturally only in a few limited localities in California. ‘Goldcrest’ first appeared as a mutation on an all-green Monterey cypress in Treseder Nursery in Cornwall, England back in 1948 and was popularly grown as a garden plant for half a century before Dutch nurseries began mass marketing it as a Christmas plant early in the 21st century.  

C. macrocarpa ‘Wilma’, also known as ‘Wilma Goldcrest’, is an even more narrowly columnar golden form that is also widely available. Unlabelled plants could be either cultivar.

Indoors or Out?

Although the golden Monterey cypress is most often sold as a Christmas plant in colder climates, it also makes a good houseplant for use year-round. It can also be grown outdoors in climates with mild winters.

Indoors

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Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’ grown as a houseplant. Source: www.bakker.com

Give it intense light, especially in winter, with 3 or 4 hours of direct sunlight per day and bright light the rest of the time. Otherwise, it will tend to gradually go decline, losing its original yellowish coloration and, eventually, branches. Low light for extended periods will kill it!

It really prefers cool temperatures year-round, in the 55 to 65 °F (13–18˚ C) range at night, especially in winter, and can take down to freezing if necessary, but that’s rarely possibly indoors. Fortunately, it does fairly well at normal indoor temperatures, although it does appreciate it when you lower the thermostat at night. Try to avoid temperatures over 80 °F (27 °C).

Watering is a snap. Just follow the golden rule of watering, that is, watering abundantly enough to moisten the entire root ball, then waiting until the soil is dry to the touch before you water again. How often you have to water can vary enormously according to the size of the plant, the size of the pot and the growing conditions. Don’t ever let it dry out completely, though: if its needles become dry and crunchy, you’ve just lost it: no amount of watering will revive it!

It doesn’t like dry air and that can be a problem in the winter, when the air indoors is often very dry. It may be necessary to increase the atmospheric humidity during the winter months to prevent the needles from drying out. Thus, the use of a humidifier or humidifying tray is highly recommended.

As for fertilizing, this plant is not a heavy feeder and too much nitrogen, especially, can lead to faster but thin growth. Normally, a single spring application of very diluted, all-purpose fertilizer will be enough.

To maintain a compact shape and good coloration, you may need to put your golden Monterey cypress outdoors for the summer. However, don’t expose it too quickly to full sun or it will sunburn. As with any houseplant, you have to gradually acclimatize it to outdoor conditions, starting in the shade, then gradually increasing the light until it can tolerate full sun.

Outdoors

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Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’ grown outdoors. Source: メルビル, Wikimedia Commos

In those climates where it will grow outdoors (zones 8 to 10, possibly 7), golden Monterey cypress prefers full sun or only light shade, plus humid air and evenly moist soil. Careful placing is important: plant it where cold, drying winds can’t reach it. Prolonged temperatures below 20 °F (-7 °C) may damage it to the point where it will never fully recover.

Remember too that it will eventually become huge if you don’t prune it occasionally. And pruning will also be necessary to maintain its columnar shape, as it develops a much more open habit over time. The cultivar ‘Wilma’ is a better choice for the outdoor garden if you’re looking for a long-term narrow habit.

From Little to Big

Typically, the golden Monterey cypress is sold as a small plant 8 to 24 inches (20 to 60 cm) tall or less … but will not remain of this size. It will grow slowly but surely, theoretically reaching in the open 65 feet (20 m) or more in height and up to 12 feet (4 m) wide. That’s far too much for indoors and also too much for many outdoor uses. That’s why you’ll probably have to begin pruning regularly at some point. Do so in spring or summer. You can even prune more than once a year.

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Topiary made of Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’. Source: www.gardenbargains.com

Most people will probably prefer to maintain its columnar shape simply by “removing a bit” from the top and sides, but you can also give this plant almost any shape you want. For example, this species is used in bonsai, topiary and—only outdoors, of course—as a hedge.

As with most conifers, don’t prune so hard that you cut into brown, leafless wood, as it doesn’t respond well to harsh pruning and that will leave bare spots.

Also remember to repot indoor specimens every three or four years using ordinary houseplant potting soil. This will help remove contaminated soil (toxic salts tend to build up over time in potting mixes). It also allows the roots more room to spread. If you want to slow down its growth, try pruning the roots in early spring.

Multiplication

You can really only multiply golden Monterey cypress by taking stem cuttings of young branches. Apply a rooting hormone and cover the cuttings with a clear plastic dome or bag until they’ve rooted, then grow them as you would adult plants.


The golden Monterey cypress: more than a superb living Christmas tree, it’s a great plant for growing all year!20171219C plantimex.co.za.jpg

 

Getting Your Christmas Plants to Rebloom

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Christmas may be over, but your Christmas plants are still alive.

There is nothing wrong with tossing a Christmas plant into the compost after it has finished flowering if you don’t feel like going any further. No need to feel guilty about this: the vast majority of the millions of Christmas plants sold each year won’t survive to see a second Christmas, so your plant will not be alone. But if you do feel like trying to make yours bloom again, here are a few tips.

Improve the Growing Conditions

It’s largely how you treat a Christmas plant after the holiday season that will ensure it will be in good enough shape to bloom again next winter. Once it’s role as a holiday decoration is over, keep watering it as necessary, but do increase the light your plant receives. Very bright light and even full sun will be necessary to get most Christmas plants to bloom again, so move it to the brightest window you have for the rest of the winter. As days get longer and hotter come spring, it may be necessary to move it back from the very sunniest windows, but it should still get as much light as you can muster. And you can even place the plant outside for the summer if possible.

Note that light your plant receives will increase naturally as the days lengthen, especially starting in March, and this will help stimulate new growth. And since your plant is now growing, you can fertilize it. From then to September, therefore, feed using an all-purpose fertilizer according to the instructions on the label: this will help give you a more vigorous plant..

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A severe pruning in spring or early summer will give a more compact poinsettia next winter.

Don’t hesitate to cut back Christmas plants with upright branches (poinsettias, kalanchoes, etc.) if they’re become too leggy. Do this in spring or early summer, but no later than the end of July, because if you prune too late in the season, the newly-produced branches may not be mature enough to bloom.

Short Days

Several Christmas plants (poinsettia, Christmas cactus and Christmas kalanchoe, for example) need short days in the fall in order to bloom in time for the holidays. Put them in a room that is not artificially illuminated at night and they will flower without any special treatment. You can also stick them in a cupboard at 6 pm each evening and put them back in a sunny spot at 8 am each morning, but that takes a lot of attention because you’ll have to repeat it daily for about two months.

Read Reblooming a Poinsettia the Laidback Way for more info on how to get a poinsettia to reflower.

Amaryllis

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Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)

The amaryllis (Hippeastrum) differs from other Christmas plants in that it prefers to go completely dormant in September, so stop watering it entirely at that time. When the foliage has completely yellowed, cut it off. Since the plant is now dormant, it can be placed in a cupboard or closet or other dark spot if you want (most sources insist on that), but in fact, that isn’t really necessary. In the wild, amaryllises grow in full sun all year long and certainly don’t move to a shadier spot while they’re dormant! Just don’t water it for two to three months, period, no matter where it is placed, until new shoots start to appear, indicating that the plant is ready to bloom again. From then on, move the plant to a bright window and start watering again.

Read Now is the Time to Get Your Amaryllis to Rebloom for more information.

The Most Laidback Tip of All!

But what is the best way to ensure that a Christmas plant blooms in time for the holidays next year? Simply buy a new plant already in bud or flower come December! After all, your conditions will never be as perfect as those of the grower who produces thousands of Christmas plants every year!20170102a

Make Your Christmas Plants Last

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20161224aWho doesn’t enjoy decorating their home with beautiful living plants for the holiday season: poinsettias, amaryllis, Christmas cactus, and so many others? They create such a warm and welcoming atmosphere… and are just loaded with Christmas cheer.

Fortunately Christmas plants are not difficult to maintain… if you know what to do. Most will remain in bloom into January, possibly even longer if you give them adequate care. However, since they’re living plants, they will indeed need some attention!

Here are a few tips on how to keep them in top shape through the holidays.

In Front of a Window During the Day

Most holiday activities take place in the evening and when you have friends and family over, you shouldn’t hesitate to place your Christmas plant in the center of things, wherever it will be most appreciated. Come morning, however, do move it to your home’s sunniest window. After all, your plant is alive and will need food… and, for plants, food comes from sunlight!

Keep Things Cool

Most holiday plants prefer cool temperatures, especially at night. Cool conditions help their flowers last much longer. Therefore if you can lower the thermostat at night to somewhere between 60 and 65˚F (15-18° C), they’ll appreciate it… and it’s good for human health too!

Remove or Pierce the Pot Cover

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Pot covers have killed more Christmas plants than any other factor.

Christmas plants are usually sold in a decorative wrapper… but this colorful pot cover has probably killed more Christmas plants than anything else.

The problem is that you can’t really tell if the plant needs watering when it’s wearing a pot cover. Ideally you’d remove it, but if not, at the very least, punch a hole in its bottom to allow any surplus water to flow out. Now place the plant in a saucer to catch the water that flows through. Otherwise, without any possibility of drainage, your plant may be constantly soaking in water and thus start to rot.

An intact pot covers also hides the fact that plant is drying out and desperately in need of water. Again, either removing it or punching a hole in the bottom and setting the plant in a saucer help solve the problem. About once a week, either water thoroughly from above until water starts drip from the bottom of the pot or fill the saucer ¾ full of water and let the plant drink its fill for 15 to 30 minutes. In both cases, empty any surplus.

Proper watering will go a loooooong way to keeping the plant alive and thriving.

Increase Ambient Humidity

Christmas plants are produced in greenhouses where the atmospheric humidity often borders 80%. Can you imagine their shock when you bring them into an average home where the ambient humidity is usually 20% or less! That’s why the use of a room humidifier is highly recommended… for both humans and plants. Strive for a relative humidity of 50%: that’s ideal for humans and good enough to keep most Christmas plants happy.

No Need to Fertilize

Back in the plant nursery, Christmas plants were boosted with fertilizers over the last few months to stimulate the best possible bloom. As a result, they won’t need fertilizer for several months, probably not before March.


With the right care, most Christmas plants can remain in bloom for at least six weeks, even up to six months in the case of poinsettias and cyclamens! And now you know exactly how to treat them to get the best results!20161224a

Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

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Making Your Gift Plant Last

décembre 26So someone brought you a gift plant over the holidays. Maybe a poinsettia or Christmas cactus. And you’re a total brown thumb! But don’t panic! Christmas plants aren’t all that hard to care for. You just need to know a few tricks.

The most important thing is to place it in a brightly lit spot. With at least an hour or two of full sun per day. After all, plants are alive and their only source of energy is sunlight. So a dark corner just won’t do. Also, make sure it gets normal indoor temperatures. Now, that was easy, wasn’t it?

Now, here’s a detail too many first-timers don’t think of. Remove the plastic or paper covering the pot came in, or at least poke a hole in the bottom. This seems counterintuitive: if the store sold a plant it decorative wrapping, it must be all right, no? No! These wrappings don’t let excess water drain away, plus they fit so snuggly you can’t really see your new plant is constantly soaking in water, and that will quickly lead to rot. By removing it or at least piercing it, you can now place your plant in a saucer (it should be as wide as the top of the pot). Now when you water, it will catch any excess water and this time you’ll be able to see it and simply empty the saucer if there is too much.

Next, you need to know how to water the plant. Insert a finger into the soil. If it is moist, everything is fine. If not, repeat 3 or 4 days later. When the soil is dry to the touch, gently pour warm water over the soil, letting it slowly sink in. Stop when water starts to slow into the saucer. If there is still water in the saucer 20 minutes later, take it to the sink and empty it. This is how you water plants: by testing every 3 or 4 days and by watering only when the soil is dry. Pretty simple, isn’t it?

What about fertilizing? Don’t worry about that for now. It’s a minor detail in houseplant care. Remember, it’s sunlight that “feeds” plants, fertilizers are more like vitamins and plants can get along for months without any. If your Christmas plant is still alive by mid-March, you can start fertilizing it (not feeding it) at no more than one quarter of the dose recommended on the fertilizer label. I insist: fertilizing is a very minor aspect of plant care!

There was a very ominous sentence in the previous paragraph: “if your plant is still alive by mid-March”. If your plant dies before that, does that mean you’ve failed? No! It’s just that many Christmas are ephemerals: naturally short-lived plants. Cyclamens, Christmas cherries, Christmas peppers, paperwhite narcissus, etc. They were designed to bloom massively and then die. So it’s not your fault if you lose them.

Longer-lived Christmas plants include poinsettias, Christmas kalanchoes, orchids, and Christmas cactus. With reasonable care, you can keep them alive for years. Will they bloom again? That’s a different story. Maybe, but that depends on your growing conditions. Start by learning to keep them alive and we can talk about getting them to rebloom in another blog!

Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

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Having A Blue Christmas?

décembre 5-anglaisGarden centers, box stores and supermarkets are all decked out for the Holidays with beautiful poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) in shades of red, pink, white, cream… and more recently, blue, purple or orange, with sparkles to boot. The first series of colors is natural: through selection and hybridization, it has been possible to take the normally red-bracted poinsettia and cause it to have bracts in various shades of pink and white, sometimes even bicolors. The intense blues, purples, and oranges are fake, resulting from a special dye being sprayed onto the bracts. (The sparkles are fake too, but that, most people have figured out.)

If you’re like me, you keep your poinsettias from year to year. Mine bloom faithfully every year starting in late November (I just put them in a room with no artificial light starting in September, as they need short days in order to bloom, and voilà! They bloom for the Holidays). But if you keep the dyed ones, you’ll find that most will have white bracts from the second year on (dyes show up better on a white poinsettia than a red or pink one).

Poinsettias aren’t the only plants being artificially colored. There are now fluorescent blue and purple orchids (these are actually injected with dyes!), succulents with leaves spray-painted pink and purple and even anthuriums with flowers lacquered in various unlikely colors.

All these shades will eventually wear off as new growth takes over and the plant will go back to its original color. So before you get excited about a plant you’ve found in some exotic new color, check with the merchant. Hopefully he’ll be able to tell you if it’s a fake or the real thing.