Create holiday traditions with plants

August 28, 2012

Beauty, Gardening, Holidays

With a little TLC, live plants can last for years and have innumerable benefits.

by Doreen Pollack — 

Plants have long been a part of holiday traditions, and with good reason. They bring enduring beauty into our lives and make excellent gifts that can be enjoyed by almost everyone — not just the gardeners in your life.

You may think of holiday plants as the Christmas tree, a hostess gift or what you give someone when you can’t come up with a better idea. But if you really think about it, a plant is a gift that gives back. With a little TLC, live plants can last for years and have innumerable benefits: from providing extra oxygen and beauty in your home to cooling shade outside.

What if this year you were to give a living gift, along with care-and-feeding instructions? If you are an eco-conscious gift giver or consumer, there are few better alternatives. Let’s explore some options for creating holiday traditions with plants.

Living Christmas trees

The Christmas tree tradition began in the 1600s in Germany. Northern Europeans believed that the Christmas tree provided godlike powers and symbolized immortality. How far we have come in modern times from appreciating these noble qualities; most trees are now cut from the roots, then discarded after the holidays.

Instead of throwing your tree away, however, what if you bought a living tree, decorated it and then placed it outside in its pot after the holidays? If you continue to care for it throughout the year, you could use it again next Christmas. Care for your potted evergreen like you would most container plants in the desert, and remember to keep it watered.


Native to Mexico, Christmas poinsettias are subtropical plants that are enormously popular holiday gifts. Christmas poinsettias make great houseplants since they thrive even after the holidays.

Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias have been considered safe for the holiday home since the 1970s. Granted, eating a few of the leaves can give you a stomachache and the sap can cause a skin rash. So, after you handle a poinsettia, keep your hands away from your eyes and wash off any sap with soap and water.

And just how do you pronounce poinsettia? Dictionaries list poin-SET-ee-uh and poin-SET-uh as acceptable pronunciations. However, those who work in the greenhouse industry and their customers regularly insert a “t” after the “n,” so that it often ends up being pronounced, point-SET-uh.

Christmas poinsettias are short-day plants, meaning the length of daylight they are exposed to affects their bud set. To re-bloom, poinsettias need about 10 weeks, with 12 hours or less of sunlight per day. You will have to artificially create these conditions, and it is crucial that you be diligent. It is best to leave the care and feeding to the professionals — all you have to do is buy a new plant every holiday.

Plant your old poinsettia outside in the shade after there is not a risk of frost, keep it moderately moist and you will have a nice green accent plant.

Christmas cactus

Three similar holiday cacti are called by this name, but only one is the real thing. The branches of the much rarer Christmas cactus have scalloped edges — no teeth — and bloom from December through March.

As with poinsettias, keep the plant in total darkness from around 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. During the day, the plant should receive bright, normal light. After about six weeks, it should have big fat flower buds. At this time, refrain from putting it in the dark and keep it in bright light during the day, with exposure to nighttime temperatures in the mid-60s. The buds should open in another six weeks or so, depending on the light and room temperature.


Yes, you can get that giant bulb from last Christmas to bloom again — if you let the green leaves linger on the plant after its last flowering. The leaves are the fuel for the growth of the next set of blooms. If you cut them off right after the flowers faded last year, you might as well toss it.

If you didn’t cut the leaves, stop watering immediately and allow the bulb to dry out for a month or so. Then take it out of its pot and gently remove any dead leaves and the brown scale on the outside. Nice looking roots indicate a happy, healthy bulb.

Repot the bulb, making sure the neck extends well above the soil line. Then place the potted bulb in a cool, dry, sunny spot, and water it very well. Thereafter, water very lightly. New shoots should appear in about a month. When they do, give it a little feeding and begin watering more often, but don’t overwater. Flowers should appear in another five to eight weeks, depending on the room temperature. Then after the risk of frost, plant them outdoors.

If you buy an amaryllis to give as a gift, include these instructions so it can be enjoyed by the recipient for at least another year.

Giving a live plant as a gift no longer means you lack imagination. Show your friends how much you care, and with a little plant-TLC, they will have a reminder of your love for months and years to come.


Doreen Pollack is the Garden Goddess and owner of Down 2 Earth Gardens, providing garden consultations, workshops and coaching. or 623-217-6038.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 27, Number 6, December 2008/January 2009.

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