There are several holiday plants that can be kept alive and reused as annual indoor decorations for years. Other traditional holiday plants can live for years in our gardens: some can be planted into containers and brought back inside the house at holiday time; others can become permanent additions to our landscaping.
Schlumbergera truncata or Christmas cacti are offered for sale during the holidays which is their natural bloom time. Schlumbergera bloom for two to three months in winter. During their bloom time, they should be kept in bright, indirect sunlight away from heat sources and watered when the top inch of soil is dry. After bloom, schlumbergera go into dormancy; they need cool temps, less water and no fertilizer until early fall, when they begin to grow new leaf segments and set flower buds. These are not desert cacti – they’re epiphytes that grow in the forest. Re-pot every couple of years using a water-retaining African violet planting mix.
Kalanchoe naturally bloom in spring and are forced into early bloom for the holidays. Deadhead the flower clusters after bloom and let the plants rest with little water and no fertilizer for a couple of months after flowering. Keep them cool and in not-so-bright indirect light. Water normally when growth restarts in summer. Feed monthly with a low number indoor plant food.
Hydrangeas and azaleas are sold in bloom in winter as houseplants. Both require cool conditions with lots of water. Most of our homes are kept too warm and dry for hydrangeas and azaleas to thrive for long. Try keeping the pots on the patio or front porch and displaying the plants inside for only a day or two. Keep the potting soil consistently moist. After flowering, plant hydrangeas and azaleas into the garden in a shady spot with well-draining, well-amended soil. The rootballs may be compacted; pull or cut the rootballs apart before planting. It may take a year for the plants to get back onto their normal spring or summer bloom schedule. Feed hydrangeas and azaleas monthly during the summer with a shade plant fertilizer.
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Ivy, jasmine and boxwood topiaries are very popular indoor winter decorations. All will quickly dry out when kept inside for more than a few days. Household dust really affects ivies. Plan on keeping them outside as much as possible. When trimming ivy topiaries, don’t cut off long streamers. The ends of the streamers will produce several more stems and the topiaries will lose its shape. Instead, tuck the streamers back into the topiary form. Water and feed as you would any outdoor container plant during the rest of year.
Traditional live holiday trees (spruces, firs, most pines) grow in much cooler climates than ours and do not transplant well into our hot gardens. Italian stone pines and Japanese black pines are among the few live trees that can tolerate our climate. Plant them outdoors after the holidays, pulling apart compacted root balls. These trees will eventually grow quite tall and wide. Plant at least 12 feet away from structures.
Send Elinor Teague plant questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com (“plants” in the subject line).