Better than Poinsettias: 5 Christmas Gift Plants
Festive poinsettias tug on our holiday heartstrings, but if you're looking for a less-expected plant gift with more staying power, here are five sure to thrive for months, if not years.
Moth Orchid Simple yet stunning, a potted moth orchid is a nearly foolproof gift suitable for both casual and elegant occasions. Fortunately, the plant's impressive looks belie its low-maintenance character. Moth orchids are the easiest of all orchids to grow indoors; they're also the longest-flowering orchids, with months of blooms. Look for them in white, pink, yellow, orange, rose and lavender. With reasonable care, they will live for years.
Art of presentation You can hardly go wrong. Zinc cylinder or white ceramic pots are classic container choices. Or jazz it up by placing a slim orchid vase inside a wider glass hurricane, then fill the in-between space with colorful ornaments, fake cranberries or other baubles.
Growing tips Moth orchids prefer medium-grain bark mix, a warm location and indirect, bright light. Water thoroughly when surface feels dry to the touch. (Most orchids are planted in bark or sphagnum moss; both materials need to dry out between waterings.) Never let orchid roots stand in water.
Named for its bloom time, this easy-care succulent brightens the holidays with four or more weeks of white, orange, pink, light red or pale yellow blooms. This beauty delights for decades with minimal care and can be propagated from cuttings. Don't worry about the cactus part-it plays nice with tiny, soft spines that are barely noticeable.
Art of presentation The arching glossy green branches of the Christmas cactus look especially pretty juxtaposed against the warmth of a natural wicker basket or in a white ceramic pot for serene simplicity.
Growing tips Keep evenly moist in medium light except from October 1 until bloom time. During that period, let the soil dry out between watering and provide 12 hours of darkness daily until it blooms. For best flowering, don't move the plant once buds are set. (They'll fall off.)
Short but sweet cyclamen set uniquely shaped flowers on 9-inch stems and, mercifully, bloom through the bleak winter until March. Species blooms are pink, lavender or white; numerous florist hybrids expand the options with lavender, purple, pink, white, red and rose. Look for interesting foliage, including variegated types with silver veining.
Art of presentation Cyclamen are like little jewels when presented in glazed pots. For a more natural look, glue twine around the florists plastic pot. To create a larger display, group a trio of cyclamen in a basket or tinware, adding twigs or branches of pussy willow.
Growing tips Provide indirect sunlight in a bright, cool location, and water when soil surface is dry. Water infrequently when the plant goes dormant after blooms fade.
Aromatic rosemary bushes sheared into a conical shape make an ideal tabletop or windowsill Christmas tree. And they're a bargain at about $10 for a 12-inch tree. You get not only a lovely holiday decoration but also fresh sprigs for cooking and a large herb to plant in the garden come spring.
Art of presentation Rosemary can be dressed to suit any style, whether wrapped in burlap for a casual presentation or gussied up in a formal urn. Adorn with small red berries and a simple bow or leave au naturel. Personalize it by including your favorite holiday recipe that uses this popular herb.
Growing tips Rosemary prefers a bright, sunny location and slightly moist soil. Mist often. Plant outside in full sun when frost is past.
St. John's Wort
A young St. John's Wort shrub makes an out of-the-ordinary gift with its handsome semievergreen foliage and white, orange, yellow, chartreuse, reddish-brown or pink fruit capsules. In addition to offering winter cheer, this low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plant is an excellent Midwest garden plant sending out 1-inch yellow flowers followed by berries.
Art of presentation Pop this plant in a copper pot for a sleek modern look or wrap in burlap fabric tied with twine for something more casual.
Growing tips Place in indirect sunlight and water when soil is dry to the touch. In spring, plant in partial shade where this mounding plant will grow to 18 to 36 inches tall.