After running a handful of errands this past weekend, I have come to the conclusion that there is no denying the holidays are on their way. Everywhere I went – from the farmer’s market to the supermarket to a big box store, I was inundated with signs of Christmas – poinsettias, greenery, carols, Santa hats, as well as an overabundance of gaudy decorations.
In fact, even my own houseplants are a constant reminder of the imminent arrival of the holidays (traitors!), since my Christmas cacti are beginning to bear their flower buds. I must admit though, that when it comes to festive decor, I do enjoy the colourful assortment of holiday plants.
The poinsettia is by far the most popular seasonal plant and millions are sold across North America each December. They have also come a long way since the days (of my childhood) when there were only red poinsettias to choose from. Today, there is a large array of colours including the traditional red, as well as pink, white, burgundy, orange, peach, yellow, purple and assorted marbled and speckled combinations.
Even the shapes of the decorative bracts, which are the colourful parts of the poinsettias, have moved beyond the traditional pointed form. Today, there are rose-shaped bracts, oak-shaped, rounded and what can only be described as ‘crazy’.
To keep your poinsettia looking its best, place it near a sunny window or in a well-lit room. Cold drafts can cause leaf drop, so keep it away from doors and windows and water regularly. To encourage the longest show of colour, fertilize once a week with a water soluble fertilizer.
Christmas cacti are long-lived perennial houseplants that require very little fussing, making it one of my personal favourites! Bright, indirect light, a well-drained potting mix and moderate water are all that is required to keep them happy and healthy.
Native to Brazil, this holiday favourite has flat, succulent stems with rounded edges that are topped off each December and January with shimmering blossoms in stunning shades of coral, pink, apricot, red, scarlet, white and sometimes even soft yellow.
The Christmas cactus, like the poinsettia, is a short-day plant that is prompted to set flower buds when the length of a day diminishes in the autumn. If you are trying to encourage a plant to re-bloom, the key to successful bud set is to place your plant in a room that receives bright, indirect sunlight during the day, but no light at all after the sun has set. Even a reading lamp will interfere with bud set.
When selecting a Christmas cactus for a gift, look for a plant with mostly buds, as opposed to one in full flower so that the blooming period will extend over a greater period of time.
The attractive, pine-scented foliage of rosemary has made it a favourite holiday plant, ideal for natural centerpieces, hostess gifts or seasonal decorations. Often, gift plants have been trained and pruned in topiary forms or conical Christmas tree shapes, adding a touch of style to holiday décor.
A popular culinary herb, the edible leaves add a punch of flavour to roasted potatoes, chicken and lamb dishes. Although a low maintenance houseplant, rosemary does appreciate sunshine, good air circulation, regular moisture and a frequent misting with water.
Niki Jabbour is a garden writer and radio show host from Halifax. Her first book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener will be in stores this December! Follow her blog at http://yearroundveggiegardener.blogspot.com.