Holiday Decorating with Living Plants

 

Decking the halls has long been part of our holiday traditions. Whether you're in search of a hostess gift or looking for that perfect focal point for your own space, living plants bring an air of warmth and vitality to a space unlike anything else. 

Below are a few of our favorite winter houseplants and some tips from the experts at Cornell Farm to keep them looking their best through the holiday season. 

 

poinsettias.jpg

Poinsettias

A true classic, Poinsettias have been a Christmas tradition more than for 500 years. However, it has just been in the last several years that new cultivars and sizes have come readily available. These include exciting bract variegation and sizes from the adorable two inch all the way up to the nearly-three-foot wide Poinsettia Dome. 

Native to Central America, it takes a little bit of care to keep them happy in our relatively frigid winter climate. Most importantly, don’t let them catch a chill. Keep them in a bright spot indoors, above 55˚F that is free of any hot or cool drafts.

Secondly, they don’t need very much water. Let the top of the soil go completely dry between waterings. Too much water will cause more harm than not enough.


Christmas Cactus

Covered in a profusion of brilliant blooms just in time for the holiday after which it was named, Christmas cactus is a remarkably resilient plant that can survive for decades with very little care. 

While they prefer only partial sun most of the year, moving them to a bright sunny spot and watering them regularly while they’re budding and blooming will give them an extra boost of color. Otherwise, the soil can go fairly dry between waterings. Even if it’s been forgotten about all together for for a month or two, a good watering will often cause it to spring back to life.


Cyclamen persicum

A symbol of love and tenderness, the cyclamen’s sweetly fragrant flowers form a vivid canopy of magenta, red, salmon, lavender, or white over the foliage below. There are also several different styles of flowers including extra-large, minis, semi-doubles, and fringed. 

With relatively little care, these colorful beauties can continue to be enjoyed year after year. Water the soil only once the top has dried out, taking care not to get water on the plant itself. We use a low-nitrogen fertilizer once a month. 

Cyclamen prefer cooler spots with a little more humidity. They even do well under a covered porch in autumn and winter, provided they’re protected from temperatures near freezing.  Bright light is ideal while they’re blooming, but move it to a darker location once the flowers have gone to allow regeneration. 


Paperwhites

Most commonly grown indoors in a vase, Paperwhites actually make a stunning addition to outdoor planters. Just plant the bulbs about 2 inches under the soil and you’re done.  Water when top inch of soil is dry.  In six to eight weeks, your sweetly-scented paperwhites will be blooming their white miniature flowers! And because it’s so much cooler outdoors, the stems will be shorter (less likely to be tossed about by the wind) and the flowers will last 2-3 times as long as those grown indoors. The blooming time can be extended into the spring by planting them in succession every week or so. 

Whether indoors or out, bulbs should be planted in the first two or three weeks of November for blooms by Christmas, or pick some up already started. 


Amaryllis.jpg

Amaryllis

From the Greek word meaning “to sparkle”, few other bulbs match the exuberance and beauty Amaryllis. Recent cultivars bring entirely new and exotic forms and colors to this family of traditionally large red blossoms. 

Amaryllis bulbs should be buried about 1/3 of the way in a well-draining potting mix. Place the pot in a sunny spot and water sparingly until you see about 2" of new growth. From then on, water regularly. As the plant grows, turn the pot periodically to encourage the stalk to grow straight. Prolong the blooms by moving the pot out of direct sunlight. 

Even faster than paperwhites, Amaryllis will bloom within four to six weeks of planting! Mostly winter flowering, some varieties bloom in time for Valentine’s Day. Plus, without much effort, they re-bloom and last for decades!


Orchids

Depending on who you ask, there are as many as 26,000 distinct species of orchids spread out over the entire globe. This has given way to incredible variations in every attribute including size, shape, color, and scent. When treated well, orchids will bloom for months on end, and can easily live for years.  

Orchids are sensitive to change, and prefer to acclimate to a specific spot throughout their lives, so find it a nice warm spot (60-80˚F) with bright, indirect light that’s not prone to drafts, and let it settle in for the long haul. 

Water your orchids once a week or so in warm weather, once to twice a month in cold weather, and use a high-nitrogen fertilizer once a month to keep it healthy and blooming strong. 


Winter Hydrangeas

Tricked into thinking it’s summer, these hydrangeas are in full bloom in the middle of Winter! Keep up the illusion and they’ll bloom though the holiday season in your home, and can then be planted outside to enjoy for years to come.

Keep the soil evenly moist, not letting it stay too soggy, but definitely don’t let them dry out. To maximize the bloom time, keep them cooler: ideally 50˚ - 60˚F. The warmer it is, the more light they’ll need. 

Once the last frost is behind us (February or March), place the potted hydrangea outside. This will allow the leaves to fall off and the plant to go dormant for a few weeks before the regrowth in the spring. At this point, it’s ready to be planted in your yard!