Tips for selecting the perfect holiday plants

December 5, 2012

By Candice Miller
Horticulture Educator, University of Illinois Extension Ogle County

With the holiday season fast approaching, do not forget to purchase holiday plants, said Jennifer Fishburn, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

As with most holiday purchases, shop early to ensure that you get the plant of your choice,” Fishburn said. “Purchase clean, healthy plants that are properly identified.”

Plants should have dark green foliage and abundant unopened flower buds or fruit. Wrap them carefully before transporting them to avoid subjecting them to freezing outdoor temperatures.

Poinsettias are the most popular holiday plant sold in the United States. The bracts, or modified leaves, are available not only in traditional red, but in white, pink, peach and yellow and in marbled and speckled patterns. The actual flowers are the small yellow blossoms in the center of the bract.

To ensure long-lasting beauty, select plants with stiff stems that have an abundance of dark-green foliage all the way down. The leaves and bracts should not be dropping. The University of Illinois Extension Hort Corner Poinsettia website at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/poinsettia/index.cfm has information about the plant’s history and care.

While poinsettias are the No. 1 choice, there are other plants you might consider,” Fishburn said.

While not a flowering plant, a Norfolk Island pine is a great year-round houseplant for a medium-to bright-light location. This tropical evergreen tree can grow to 200 feet in its native habitat but will probably grow only to 6 feet indoors.

Avoid the mess of pine needles by decorating a Norfolk Island pine with lightweight ornaments and miniature lights,” Fishburn suggested.

Azaleas are another possibility. For maximum enjoyment, choose plants with most flowers still in bud. The flowers will last longer if the plants are kept in a cool spot. Do not allow azaleas to wilt or dry out. Azaleas purchased from the florist are not hardy enough for Midwest winters and are difficult to keep from year to year.

Cyclamen has heart-shaped leaves that are dark green with silver marbling. Flowers are white, red or pink. The plant enjoys cool, bright and moist conditions, and can be difficult to grow inside.

Christmas cactus (scalloped leaf edges) and Thanksgiving cactus (toothed leaf edges) are some of the most durable flowering potted plants, re-blooming easily year after year. They have pink, white, red, violet or orange flowers. Keep the plants evenly moist while in flower. High temperatures or excessively dry soil will cause the flowers to wilt and drop off.

With proper care, most holiday plants will provide you with several weeks to months of enjoyment,” Fishburn said.

From the Dec. 5-11, 2012, issue

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