Pick of the holiday seasonal plants to decorate your home for Christmas

By Andy McIndoe

The indoor plant market looks forward to the holiday season as we think about those seasonal lovelies to brighten up our homes and give to family and friends. Garden centres, flower shops and stalls, supermarkets and department stores brim with poinsettias, cyclamen, orchids, flowering cacti, azaleas and a host of exotic and colourful subjects to appeal to buyers at this time of year. Sales rocket, reaching a peak in mid to late December.

[caption id="attachment_9611" align="alignleft" width="550"]Red kalanchoe Red kalanchoe[/caption]


I have talked about many of these festive pot plants on the blog before, but it is always worth revisiting and giving one or two tips on what to choose. I’m not going to tell you how to look after them – I’m just going to advise you what to buy and what not to buy.

[caption id="attachment_9612" align="alignleft" width="550"]Cyclamen Cyclamen[/caption]

Firstly let’s talk cyclamen. The season for these elegant plants starts in early autumn and is coming to a close around Christmas. Cyclamen hate hot, dry conditions, and they need light. Always look out for fresh-looking plants with brightly coloured lively-looking flowers. Avoid any with curled stems that have carried faded flowers. Etiolated small leaves, rising above the main crown of foliage, tell you that the plant hasn’t had enough light and it has been hanging around. Take a look under the leaves and see if there are mushy stems and rotten buds and leaves – if there are, don’t buy.

[caption id="attachment_9613" align="alignleft" width="550"]Poinsettia Poinsettia[/caption]

As we get closer to Christmas poinsettia, Christmas star is the favourite. Personally I prefer the lovely cream, pink or salmon varieties, and I would buy in early December. This gives you a long season to enjoy your plant. I would never give a poinsettia at Christmas, because I think the main season to enjoy it has passed. For me the best place for a poinsettia after Christmas is the compost heap. When you do buy only buy from a good garden centre, nursery or florist. Never buy from an outside stall – poinsettias need warmth. I would also be very careful if you buy from a supermarket. Your poinsettia may well have spent a couple of chilly nights in the cold conditions of the vegetable store.

[caption id="attachment_9614" align="alignleft" width="550"]Christmas cactus Christmas cactus[/caption]

The Christmas cactus is a temperamental beast. Once it is in flower it is usually fine but being moved around when the buds are at an early stage of development can result in bud drop. Change in temperature and some erratic watering by the retailer can mean a sleeve full of buds and a rather ugly green plant. I’m never sure about the appeal of these characters – especially when you see them wrapped in some shiny, lurid wrap to make them look more festive.

[caption id="attachment_9615" align="alignleft" width="550"]Phalaenopsis Phalaenopsis[/caption]

Of course the best value for a long flowering season is still the phalaenopsis, moth orchid. The colour range is more extensive than it ever has been, the flowers are long lasting and the plant is suited to the temperatures in our homes. Never buy from a market or outside stall. If you buy from a big department store take a good look and make sure your purchase looks fresh and healthy. Shining green leaves that are not wrinkled or floppy and fresh, crisp blooms and fat buds are signs of a good plant. Look out for newly delivered plants in cellophane sleeves: these are easy to transport and well protected.

[caption id="attachment_9616" align="alignleft" width="550"]Saintpaulia Saintpaulia[/caption]

The saintpaulia or African violet still makes its appearance amongst the other seasonal pot plants. If you want a plant as a decoration on its own, or as a gift go for one of the larger specimens. You will find some exciting colours and varieties with bicoloured blooms on offer. I spotted these rather unusual white and pale green ones – unfortunately they were packed in hideous purple foil which made them look tacky. However in a nice pale green pot cover or a clear glass bowl with white stones one of these could be quite stunning.

[caption id="attachment_9617" align="alignleft" width="550"]Kalanchoe Kalanchoe[/caption]

If you are giving to someone that’s hopeless with pot plants then a kalanchoe, flaming Katy, isn’t a bad idea. Always buy one with open flowers; they do not always open successfully in the home from plants in tight bud. I think the clusters of green buds on immature plants resemble broccoli – not at all appealing. The flowers last for weeks and the succulent nature of the plant means that they don’t wilt even if you neglect the watering.

[caption id="attachment_9618" align="alignleft" width="550"]Helleborus niger 'Wintergold' Helleborus niger 'Wintergold'[/caption]

So which would I buy? Personally none of these. I would go for one of the new generation of Helleborus niger hybrids with deep green leaves and shining white flowers with golden stamens. I would keep it out on the porch in the run up to Christmas and then move it indoors for the festive season. After Christmas I would plant it outside in the garden where it could grow and bloom again next year. Helleborus niger ‘Wintergold’ is a good one to look out for. Here’s a great on-line offer for you – treat yourself and order one or two for gifts (UK delivery only). http://www.hillieronline.co.uk/products/plants/perennial-plants/helleborus-niger-wintergold-1l-p-and-p.html

[caption id="attachment_9619" align="alignleft" width="550"]Frilled Cyclamen Frilled Cyclamen[/caption]

Of course thinking about seasonal plants and looking at what’s available is great for getting your eye in to enter our Christmas Mystery Flower Competition.  Just guess the mystery flower and you could win a My Garden School course or a gift from Arena Flowers. Click on the link and think – I know you can do it!  http://www.my-garden-school.com/christmas-mystery-flower/



Andy McIndoe

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