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West Hartford Gardener Has Advice for Giving Appropriate ‘Living Gifts’

Plant gift advice for gardeners and holiday hosts and hostesses.  

by Karla A. Dalley


Poinsettia plants ready for purchase at Home Depot, West Hartford. Photo credit: Joy Taylor

This time of year almost every place we turn we are bombarded by “holiday house plants.” And indeed, plants make great gifts. Of course I give them myself, but I choose carefully and I try to think about to whom I am giving the plant. With my guidelines, you too can give great plants as gifts.

Almost everyone will grab a poinsettia for a house plant gift if they are going to a home that celebrates Christmas. I usually do not do that for two reasons.

First, I am almost always running other errands, and a poinsettia cannot stay in the car while I do that. It must go straight from the store or garden center to a warm home. This is probably the number one reason why folks fail with poinsettias – the plants take a chill and then “mysteriously” die a few days later.

I also don’t always know about my host’s growing conditions and home temperatures. Since poinsettias like it warm, (they are native to Mexico), and like to be evenly moist, I don’t want to impose that burden on anyone during the busy holidays. So I chose something simpler.

If, however, you do want to give, or decorate with poinsettias, the trick to succeeding with them is to make sure that they stay warm (again, remember Mexico!) and evenly moist and away from drafts. They do not like bright sunlight, (indirect light is fine). And while most people toss them once the holidays are over, of course they are shrubs in Mexico so they can be saved and “re-bloomed” for next season and it’s not difficult. Cut off the red bracts as soon as you are tired of looking at them. In the summer you can gently transition the plant outside, but make sure to bring it indoors by Labor Day. Put it in an un-used room where you do not turn the light on at night. By next December, you will see those red bracts (the colorful leaves) returning again!

A beautiful christmas cactus is flowering with red pink flowers in bloom

A beautiful christmas cactus is flowering with red pink flowers in bloom. BigStock Image

I love to choose zygo cactus (what we often call “Christmas Cactus” although the genus schlumbergera is neither a cactus nor does it naturally bloom at Christmas. It is a succulent, which means it needs a little more water than a cactus.) I bought another one for myself again this year. They are very easy to care for, needing little water and little light, (again, unlike a “real” cactus!) In succeeding years, they will set their buds in relation to day length and temperature so again, a darker, cooler window is better if you want them to bloom earlier, or a brighter, (but not sunny) warmer one is better if you want them to bloom later.

Tender flowering bulb kits such as Amaryllis, or Paper Whites make great gifts as well. Here, you have to know your host or gift recipient. “Paper whites” is a shorthand term for paper white narcissus, a member if the daffodil family. They have a strong fragrance. Some people like the fragrance and others find it detestable. If you are unsure, stick with an amaryllis. These large flowering bulbs come in lots of colors including red, pink, white and variations on that theme. You can often find them started and in decorative pots at garden centers. Both the kits and the potted varieties of amaryllis will come with “after care” instructions which can be kept from year to year. Paper whites should be discarded after blooming.

Close-up of Amaryllis Red Lion on white background

Close-up of Amaryllis Red Lion. BigStock Image

For something that looks more exotic but is still quite easy to maintain, I love to give a phalaenopsis orchid. These orchids are quite easy to care for. Everyone has probably seen the Just Add Ice Orchids™ in stores. While I don’t water my own orchids this way or suggest that ice method, for some folks I am sure the “ice” method is a time saver. (I prefer gently lifting the orchids from their decorative pots and letting water run over the bark until it runs out the bottom, letting it drain all the way and then returning the orchid to the pot.) And the orchids bloom for months on end and provide a cheery “decoration” all winter.

Some other lovely gift plants available this time of year are stephanotis, often sold as Madagascar Jasmine; red-leafed Aglaonema, a house plant that is very easy to care for and that I have seen marketed as “the anti-poinsettia,” and true Jasmine (jasmine officinalis). In the case of either of the jasmines, they are fragrant, but again, not everyone loves fragrance so take that into consideration. Plants can be welcome additions to the home and can make great gifts at the holidays. Just try to anticipate your host’s lifestyle and growing conditions and your gift will thrive for years to come.

Karla Dalley is a garden writer and contributor to West Hartford Magazine, and speaker from West Hartford. [email protected]. You can read her blog at: gardendaze.wordpress.com


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