By Jane Gates, Signal Staff Writer
Decorate with potted plants to add some last minute festivity to your home, house entry or garden. Most holiday plants can not only add seasonal cheer, but, with proper care, can be enjoyed for years to come.
Some of traditional flowering plants grow from bulbs — like Amaryllis, Cyclamen, Narcissus (Paper-whites) and Hyacinths. These are usually “forced.” That means they are rested over the warmer seasons and brought into flower later than usual so you can have flowers during the holiday.
If you grow them in your garden or outside in their pots, they will likely skip spring flowering then return to their regular spring-flowering schedule the year after. Some bulbs, like the Hyacinth, are less reliable outdoors in our climate and soil. Narcissus, Daffodils, the Naked Lady Amaryllis (other Amaryllis varieties may require some protection from hot sun and cold) and Cyclamen (in shade with regular water) should do fine mixing with other garden flowers.
Many shrubs adapted for holiday decor can be planted outdoors once they are not needed indoors. Choose rosemary and boxwood in Christmas topiary forms (keep them clipped if you want them to retain their shape), azaleas to add colorful reds, pinks and whites (plant them outdoors with acid soil and a little shade), and even miniature roses (for sun and occasional deep watering).
Note that azaleas are more of a challenge to grow in the garden due to the heavy minerals in both our soil and our water. They should be kept in acid potting soil or outdoor soil amended with acid soil and plenty of peat. Feeding and watering with acid supplements (even a little well-diluted vinegar) will help neutralize the lime and calcium of our local water supply. They will burn in our full sun, particularly in summer.
Rosemary is an excellent drought-
tolerant garden plant, and most boxwoods (requiring a little more irrigation than rosemary) should also grow happily outdoors long after their holiday job is done. Keep them pruned for shape if you want to try maintaining them for next year’s holiday season, or let them grow out naturally to permanently decorate the your outdoor landscape.
For the autumn through winter season, look for chrysanthemums (they’ll love adding color to your garden in the future, too) and the Christmas cactus — Schlumbergera — that can be kept as an indoor potted plant all year round and naturally blooms around Christmastime. The Poinsettia will grow into a long, lanky shrub if planted into the garden after the holidays in warmer parts of Los Angeles, but will not survive without protection in our inland chaparral. Prune it to keep it bushier and make sure you keep it safe from frost and hot sun.
Kalanchoe blossfeldiana is also popular as a potted plant during the holidays. This one is a succulent with bright clusters of pink, red, yellow or orange flowers that looks festive indoors and out. It will make a fine show as a low-growing flower in part-sun or shade in a frost-protected part of the garden or patio, too. Or you can keep it in its pot and grow it on a tabletop outside to flower again next season.
There are other plants you’ll be seeing offered for holiday décor in your favorite garden center. Some are intended to only last for a short time, but many are perennials and can be grown in pots indoors or outside.
Some fun suggestions for more “collectable” plant gifts would be orchids and miniature bonsai trees. These can be decorated for the season or shown off year round. Another idea would be to create your own miniature or fairy garden — especially one that offers a whole scene with a house and mini trees to decorate with tiny holiday ornaments. Decorations can come down at the end of the season and the miniature landscape can be tended like any other container garden for years to come. You can even dress up your diminutive landscape for other events and holidays to keep the celebration theme alive all year.
So as you shop for your living holiday décor, choose plants that can keep giving long after the season is over. Whether they continue to grace your home or your garden, there are many possibilities to make your choices thrive long after the New Year goes by. And the New Year after that, and the New Year after that….