Poinsettia Alternatives

The holidays are a time for old traditions, and one of these in the gardening world is the poinsettia. But this year, make a new tradition when it comes to your home decor. Here are a few great plants to use around the house in coordination with your traditional poinsettias.

Cyclamen

The first plant is the original Christmas flower, the cyclamen. Cyclamen were originally the go-to Christmas flowers in the Victorian Era, and they are making a comeback. With their affinity for cooler temperatures, their blooms last a long time and their easy maintenance makes them a great gift for those lacking the greenest thumbs.

Cyclamen, or the poor man’s orchid, have unique flowers that come in a variety of colors ranging from white to red to purple and they can even be two-toned. Each flower has five petals that can be single, double or ruffled, and appear as if they are a cluster of butterflies hovering above the plant.

Their Christmas Flower title came from being a cool season blooming houseplant.  With the proper care, a cyclamen can last on average 2-3 months or longer, and often will change color when they re-bloom. Cyclamen require bright indirect light and should be placed in the coolest room of the house.  Like a lot of plants, definitely keep cyclamen away from heating vents as the warm drafts can dry them out quickly.

Cyclamen require even soil moisture and are tuberous plants, so it is best to water them from the bottom. Simply fill a saucer with water and place the cyclamen in the saucer.  Be sure to drain off excess water if the saucer you use is under the cyclamen at all times.  Also, be sure the plant dries out a little before watering it again.  You wouldn’t want the bulb to rot.

Christmas Cactus

The Christmas Cactus is another great plant to decorate with this time of year. Its real name is actually zygocactus, but its holiday name comes from its consistent blooming during the holiday season.

Christmas Cactus are not your typical cactus. Native to Brazil, these cacti do not have needles or spines like the cactus that most people think of. The plant blooms from the ends of its branches, and its blooms vary in color from white, yellow and orange to red pink and magenta. 

The buds are set in the fall when the plant is exposed to cooler temperatures at night, between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. After it is done blooming at Christmas, it will rest some and then set more buds to bloom again during the Spring, often falling around the time of Easter.

To care for your Christmas Cactus, keep it in bright but indirect light. It is best to keep the cactus away from drafts, heat vents, fireplaces or other sources of hot air. You can also move the plant outdoors in summer to a shady location. When it comes to watering, it is important to remember that Christmas Cactus are tropical cacti, not desert cacti. Unlike most desert cacti, this variety cannot tolerate completely dry soil. If the soil gets too dry, the flowers buds will drop, and the plant will wilt. Feel the soil with your fingers; if it feels dry, it's time to water.

Amaryllis

Amaryllis are a great statement piece to add in on your table centerpiece and around your home.  They are beautiful six to ten inch trumpet shaped flowers at the top of a one to two foot stem.  The large blooms come in a variety of colors, sizes and can even vary in being a single layer of petals or a fuller double layer of petals.  The colors range from a simple white or red to striped petals of pink or a bright lime green.  Petal shape can also vary, giving you loads of textures available to decorate your home with.

Amaryllis take between six to ten weeks to bloom after planting, meaning that now is the time to get yours planted to have it blooming for Christmas. It is best to put the potted bulb in a warm, sunny place to begin its growth.  Once it has begun, place the pot somewhere a bit cooler so the stem does not grow too tall. These make great holiday gifts for gardeners who want a little bit of color in their home during the winter.

Amaryllis can be planted from October through April. When you go to plant your bulb, place it in lukewarm water  for an hour or so to stimulate the roots. Choose a pot that is barely larger than the bulb itself. Be sure your pot has proper drainage.  Being that an amaryllis is a bulb, it will rot easily if the water has nowhere to go after you water it.

As you plant the bulb, be sure to avoid damaging the roots.  No matter how deep your pot is, be sure that at least a third of the bulb is exposed at the top of the soil. (See Photo) While it may look funny to us, this is how amaryllis need to be planted to ensure success.  Water the bulb after you planted it, but then less frequently until the stem begins to grow.

Amaryllis may shoot up only one stem, but can often shoot up multiple stems, each producing multiple flowers.  Once the an amaryllis flower has finished blooming, cut that faded flower off promptly.  This will allow the plant to give its energy to the flowers that remain, keeping them in bloom longer.  

Paperwhites

Another great bulb to decorate with for the holiday season is the Paperwhite.  Paperwhites are more well known among amateur gardeners. They are truly the “Just add water” tupe of plant.  Part of the narcissus family, paperwhites produce bunches of fragrant small white flowers that look like miniature daffodils.  

These bulbs and can be easily force-grown indoors, not needing to be chilled before growth begins, as hyacinths or tulips need.  As soon as the flowers are planted, they begin to grow, producing blooms about three to four weeks later.  To prolong blooming, it is best to keep them in a cooler room and indirect light. These are also popular gifts to give, as well as decorations in homes.   

Paperwhites are popular because they can be grown in or out of soil.  Many people will use them as a table centerpiece after being grown in decorative stones and water.  You can basically plant them in any medium, and as long as they have water, they’ll grow. Just be sure that when growing paperwhites in this manner, that you do not have the bulbs completely submerged in water, as they will rot.

When you plant them, put a layer of your medium, let’s say stones, in the bottom of a shallow dish that has no drainage.  Then place your bulbs in the medium so that they will stay standing.  Part of the trick is to pack the container with as many bulbs as it will fit.  Once all your bulbs are placed, fill in and gaps with your stones, leaving the point of the bulbs sticking out of your stones.  Then fill the containers with water up to the base of the bulbs.  Be sure to refill the container with additional water as needed.

Every year it is the same routine.  The lights start to go up on trees, wreaths on front doors and holiday carols are played at the mall. Then out come the poinsettias.  Everywhere you look, you see the beautiful red, white, and pink blooms.  This year, add a few of these additional holiday blooms to the mix.  The collection of heights, colors, textures and shapes will add a new dimension to your holiday decor. 

 

 

 

Christian Goers