Looking for a feel-good, beautiful, reasonably priced gift? Plants are all that and even on trend—see #plantsmakepeoplehappy; it’s an Instagram thing. Here’s a quick guide on which plants to buy—as a gift or for yourself. Make sure to get them to their destination safely by wrapping them head to toe at the store and getting them back indoors as soon as you can.
Holiday plants come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Take the beautiful but dreaded poinsettia. It’s beautiful because the red, cream, or sparkle-laden plants are dazzling. But it is also dreaded because the plant will drop its leaves in warm and dry air, cold drafts, or direct sunlight. There’s hope—and you need not be a horticulturist to nurture a holiday plant.
Christmas Cactus So much for common names—these colorful plants (Schlumbergera spp.) hail from Brazil’s rainforest. Place them in bright, indirect light. Water thoroughly, letting the soil dry a little between waterings.
Rosemary Who doesn’t love a fragrant pot of rosemary, trimmed to look like a miniature spruce tree? Keep it moist but not sopping wet, and give it bright light or a sunny window. And snip some stems for your culinary adventures.
Orchid Forget to water? No problem. Overwatering orchids kills them faster than underwatering. Place them in a southern or eastern exposure and enjoy several months of bloom.
Poinsettia Give it a cool spot out of direct sunlight and keep the soil moist but not soggy. It’s tricky to keep poinsettias going until spring, but if you’re game, here’s how.
Amaryllis Breathtaking, beefy amaryllis blooms—trumpets of white, cream, red, pink, or multi-colors—put on a show for several weeks. Put the plant in a bright, sunny spot and water thoroughly, letting the soil dry a bit between waterings. As each flower fades, remove the flowering stalk. A bonus: you can get it to rebloom next year.
Cyclamen Often called “the poor man’s orchid,” cyclamen (SIKE-la-men) plants like it cool, preferring daytime temperatures around 68 degrees Fahrenheit and down to 50 degrees at night—not always easy to do. However, an unheated sunroom, enclosed porch, a bright, cool window or an east or north-facing windowsill will do. Set the plant pot in a bowl of water and let it “drink” up the water and then return it to the saucer. Soil should dry out a bit between waterings, but not so much that the leaves begin to wilt.
Need a little holiday pick-me-up? Stop by the Garden’s Greenhouses in the Regenstein Center for a peek at the stunning holiday plants. Save time to drop by the Garden Shop for a selection of plants and other holiday gift ideas.
Guest blogger Nina Koziol is a garden writer and horticulturist who lives and gardens in Palos Park, Illinois.
Holiday plants and flowers make great gifts for everyone on your shopping lists. They are perfect gifts for family members, the host and hostess of the holiday parties you attend, and of course, are beautiful for decorating your own home. Plus, they can be enjoyed long after the holiday season is over, adding color and life to your home on chilly winter days.
But getting your plants to last longer will require a little special care. Here’s how to take care of the most popular gift plants, both during the holiday season and long after.
Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) appreciate bright light away from heating vents, fireplaces, and drafty windows or doors. Maintain even moisture (but avoid soggy soil); plants will wilt dramatically if allowed to dry out. The plants should never be allowed to stand in water for more than 20 minutes if possible.
Poinsettia plants can be a challenge to keep year-round, and most gardeners discard the plant after the holidays. However, those trying to force a rebloom the following season can follow these guidelines:
As long as the plant looks healthy, continue to provide it with even moisture and warm temperatures in a bright location, out of direct sun. In six to eight weeks, it will begin to lose its leaves and turn slightly off-color. At that point, cut the entire plant back to 6 inches and repot in a larger pot, adding enough extra soilless mix or potting soil to fill the pot. Water thoroughly and place the plant in a south-facing window.
Begin to fertilize the plant twice a month with a dilute 20-20-20 or 10-10-10 mix. New growth should begin. Begin pinching new stems back once a month to encourage bushy growth. Continue this pinching until the end of summer.
In mid-May, after all danger of frost has passed, gradually introduce the plant to the outdoors, bringing it back in at night until the nighttime temperature remains above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Then place the pot in a sunny spot where it is protected from strong afternoon summer sun. Water and fertilize regularly.
When night temperatures approach 60 degrees, it’s time to bring the poinsettia back inside to a sunny windowsill. By the end of September, the plant must be placed in a completely dark closet or covered with a box every night from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m.—with no exceptions. After 7 a.m., it can be placed back in a sunny window but returned to the closet at 5 p.m. This dark treatment is necessary for the plant to set its flower buds. Provide normal water during the day and fertilize monthly.
Poinsettia plants thrive in warm rooms with bright light and will suffer if exposed to drafts, sudden temperature changes, or excess dryness from heating vents. Continue this treatment until the middle of December, when the plant should be fully colored up for display again for the holidays.
Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) bulbs should be potted up in wide, squat containers using a soilless mix. Allow the “shoulders” of the bulb to remain above soil level; water well once and then allow soil to dry out before watering again. Keep the pot away from direct sunlight, drafts, and heating vents.
Most amaryllis plants will send up stalks and flower first (leaves will emerge after a bloom cycle). As the stalk grows, rotate the pot for even growth. After flowering, allow the stalks to yellow and wither before removing them from the bulb.
Continue to water the plant after leaves emerge. After May 15, take the plant outside and place it in a location where it receives morning sunlight. Fertilize regularly with a dilute 10-10-10 or 15-15-15 mix.
Around October 15, bring the plant inside for its resting period. If the leaves have yellowed, remove them from the bulb. If they are still green, allow them to yellow before removing them from the bulb. Take the bulb out of its container; shake off the dirt and place it in a cool, dark room (40 to 50 degrees). At that time, cut off any dried roots from the bulb and re-pot. Signs of new green growth can occur from six to 10 weeks later.
Cyclamen plants prefer quite cool indoor conditions. Water only when the soil dries out, and avoid splashing water on foliage.
Water these plants below the foliage, or set them in a shallow saucer to soak up water. Discard any unused water after 20 to 30 minutes. (To prevent root rot, make sure the plants don’t sit in water for long periods of time.)
Cyclamen will continue to bloom for a few weeks if they are kept in a north- or east-facing window. Remove the faded flowers and their stems at the base of the plant as soon as possible to keep the plants blooming in a tidy fashion. Most gardeners find it too difficult to force the plant to bloom again the following season.
Azaleas require moist soil, bright light, and occasional misting. They perform best if kept in cool locations. Flowers will remain for months if old blossoms are quickly removed, the plant receives adequate moisture, and it is kept in cool conditions.
In May, once all danger of frost has passed, the plant can be taken outside to a shaded or partially shaded spot where it only receives morning light in the garden. At that time, begin to fertilize twice a month with a dilute liquid fertilizer formulated especially for acid-loving plants.
Bring the plant back indoors before October 15.
Phalaenopsis or moth orchids prefer warm rooms in bright, but not direct sun. Moth orchids will bloom for months, but sudden temperature changes can cause the plant to drop buds. Remove drying buds to maintain the beauty of the plant. Orchids potted in fir bark generally require once-a-week watering. Those in potting soil can be watered less often.
After flowering, allow the stem to yellow before cutting it off at the base of the plant. Begin fertilizing plant twice a month with a dilute orchid fertilizer. This will encourage the growth of a new stem and more flowers the following year.
Wash the foliage monthly. It’s not necessary to take this plant outdoors for the summer; but it will tolerate being moved outside if kept in shady location, and not allowed to dry out.
Continue normal watering and fertilizing until a new stem appears, approximately 10 to 12 months later. When the plant initiates flower buds, discontinue fertilizing.
Continue to provide bright light—but keep out of direct sunlight—in a warm room. During winter, try to provide extra humidity from pebble trays, or by misting daily if possible.
Ivy topiaries are popular holiday plants that can last for years if given proper care.
Like cyclamen and azaleas, ivy also prefers quite cool conditions and bright light far away from heating vents or fireplaces.
Mist the plant regularly, or rinse the plants in a sink to keep the foliage clean and free of spider mites. As new growth emerges, train the new growth to the desired form.
Take the plants outside after May 15. Maintain growth during the summer by keeping the plants watered often, and fertilize them at least once a month, keeping the plants in a semi-shaded location. Continue training and pruning the plants periodically to keep their desired form.
Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) may require a cage or a ring of raffia tied around them to keep them from flopping as they grow. If purchased as bulbs, grow them in a shallow dish filled with pebbles rather than soil. Arrange the bulbs close together and cover them with pebbles, with just their tips exposed. (The weight of the pebbles helps to keep them from falling to the side as they grow.) Water just enough to encourage root growth, not soaking the bulbs.
Paperwhites can be discarded after blooming, as they are not hardy to be planted outside in your garden.
Create a miniature landscape in an open, shallow container: a dish garden! Gather small foliage and flowering plants together in a decorative container—like a basket or saucer—for a versatile display you can enjoy throughout the year.
Dish gardens are easy to grow, very adaptable to most environments, and can be placed anywhere in the home. Even if you do not have a green thumb, you’ll find it difficult to kill a dish garden. They last much longer than fresh cut flower arrangements, although if you like, you can add fresh cut flowers—they will last up to a week or more. Once done blooming, the flowers can be easily removed or replaced, and the dish garden can be enjoyed for many more months.
Choose the container: Your dish garden should be planted in a shallow container. The size depends only on how many plants you want to put into it. Almost anything can be used as a container—let your imagination be the judge.
Provide drainage: Adequate drainage is probably the most important rule to ensure the success of your dish garden. Be sure to remove excess water and avoid over-watering. Drainage holes on the bottom are best, but not mandatory. If drainage holes are not present, use a plastic liner or saucer in the container, or add a layer of gravel or pebbles on the bottom for drainage.
Choose the plants: Use small starter plants; 3-inch or 4-inch pots work best. Choose plants with the same general light and water requirements. Using seasonal flowering plants or interesting seasonal focal points—such as poinsettias for the holidays—and change them out throughout the year: replace your poinsettia with a flowering primrose or bulbs in the spring.
Dish garden themes: Be different! Try a cactus or desert garden, bulb garden, flowering annuals, African violets, or herb garden. Or try to spruce it up with special decorations for a holiday or event.
Planting and design: Always use a well-draining peat-based potting soil. Place the tallest plants in the center if the dish garden is to be viewed from several sides, or place them in the back of the container if viewed only from one side. Mix plants with contrasting foliage, colors, leaf sizes, and shapes. Top dress the soil with a layer of Spanish moss, gravel, or bark chips.
Care of your dish garden: Again, they are easy, needing only proper drainage, water, light, and an occasional dose of general fertilizer, and minor trimming if needed. They can last in the home for 1-2 years before repotting is needed.
Two Garden staffers set out to capture 12 hours of the Chicago Botanic Garden on 12-12-2012 to submit to the One Day on Earth project. It turned out to be an ideal day to capture winter beauty with clear skies and lots of wildlife. We saw the lights at the Lake Cook Road entrance while it was still dark, the sunrise over the Malott Japanese Garden, gorgeous morning sun on the display gardens, the indoor Wonderland Express exhibition, the sunset over the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, the holiday lights on The Esplanade and the indoor Greenhouses. Wonderland Express is open through Jan. 6, 2013, so don’t miss it!
“I wonder…” It’s a phrase we hear a lot at the holidays, especially about the outdoor light show that accompanies Wonderland Express, and it inspired us to gather the answers to your FAQs.
I wonder how many lights there are. 750,000, give or take a string.
I wonder what kind of lights they use. LEDs, for the same reasons you have them at home: they last longer and use just 10 percent of the energy of incandescents.
I wonder how long it takes to put up all the lights. Crews start stringing outdoor lights in October, using ladders or hydraulic truck lifts to reach the tops of the trees.
I wonder how many lights are on that big tree. About 300 strings of LEDs light up the approximately 40-foot tree on the Esplanade.
I wonder if they re-use the lights every year. Most lights are installed and removed by hand every year, tested, wrapped, and stored to re-use the next year. Some lights (entrance road, outer wall) are left on trees for two to three years. As you can imagine, damage from wind and weather and the occasional we-just-couldn’t-reach-it issue cause us to lose some lights every year. For an in-depth look at light installation and removal—and to see a tree delivered by helicopter—check out this video.
I wonder if the lights are up for Thanksgiving. Yes! The lights get turned on next Tuesday, November 20, in plenty of time for you to bring family and friends for a pre- or post-Thanksgiving dinner stroll around the grounds.