Holiday plants -- either purchased or grown at home -- add seasonal cheer and make good gifts.
Anticipating the holidays is fun, as any child can tell you. Anticipating floral gifts and decorations for the holidays is smart, as any hostess knows.
With a little time and effort, containers of flowers can adorn the fireplace mantle or the dining room table. With a little forethought, a seasonal flower becomes a special gift for someone.
You can start from scratch by fashioning your own creation, choosing the perfect combinations of bulbs, colors and containers. Or you can buy a preassembled kit, water it and watch the bulbs emerge and bloom. If you prefer instant gratification, skip the planting and growing part entirely and simply buy plants already in bloom.
The familiar bloom of the poinsettia and the striking flower of the Christmas cactus brighten any holiday decor. These are excellent choices for people who desire plants already in bloom.
The flowering of both is triggered by the short days and long nights this time of year. Their seasonal blooms reappear with proper care. Both plants are available in a variety of colors and sizes. One will surely be right for that special person or certain place.
Right now, a basket of dried sunflowers sits on my hall table. In an upstairs room, a Christmas cactus is getting ready for its annual floral show. I can already see small buds forming. Over the next few weeks the buds will enlarge. The plant will flower just in time for holidays and be ready to decorate the hall table, temporarily replacing the sunflowers.
For the adventurous do-it-yourselfer who wants blooms during the holidays as well as the days and weeks that follow, now is the time to plant bulbs.
Assemble the items -- bulbs, a container and soil or another planting medium. Add some moss, ivy, ribbons and other festive baubles to top it off. Voila! You have created a floral decoration to grace your home or a holiday gift to give away. Choose a container that is highly decorative and you have doubled your gift.
In the works
Paperwhites, amaryllis and hyacinths are among the easiest bulbs to bring into bloom.
Hyacinths need cold treatment before blooming. Bulbs are available that have already been ``pre-cooled,'' which trims about two weeks off the time needed for the bulbs to flower. Even so, they need an additional 12 weeks before blooming.
While the time for starting hyacinth bulbs for holiday bloom has passed, they still make interesting holiday gifts. The process of their development is easily observed.
Hyacinths are unique because they can be grown without any soil or gravel. Specific hourglass-shaped hyacinth vases allows these fragrant flowers to grow suspended above, but not touching, the water. The growing roots can be seen clearly through the glass, adding interest and enjoyment even before the bloom appears.
Tulips, like hyacinths, need pre-cooling. They require more time to bloom and are a little trickier to force. Most cannot be brought to bloom in time for the holidays. They require 10 to 15 weeks of refrigeration in a dark place to kick off the chemical reaction that starts the flowering process.
On the other hand, paperwhites are a lovely holiday addition and especially easy to grow. Their slim green stems give rise to small white, highly fragrant blooms. Placed in areas of the home where visitors are likely to wander, their scent brings a spring-like quality to the holiday season.
The bulbs are best placed in a shallow pot or bowl with no drainage holes in the bottom. Fill the bowl two-thirds full with loose pebbles or gravel rather than soil. Even colored beads or marbles work, and make the display more festive. Place as many bulbs as will fit on the gravel, pointed side up. Then fill in with gravel, leaving the top halves of the bulbs exposed. Add water up to the base of the bulbs and keep it at this level. Place the container in a cool place.
Within days, strong roots will form. When the green shoots of the paperwhites appear, move the container to a cool, sunny spot. Their growth is rapid from this point. In about three weeks, masses of heavily scented white flowers will decorate your home -- just in time for the holidays.
Get the point
In contrast to the small flower of the paperwhite is the spectacular bloom of the amaryllis. Borne atop strong green stems, these magnificent flowers are surprisingly easy to cultivate.
To grow a single plant, select a pot that is only slightly bigger than the bulb. A more outstanding display can be obtained by placing three bulbs together in a container that is more broad than deep and has drainage holes at the bottom.
Add several inches of soil into the container and place the bulbs, pointed side up, so that their neck and shoulders are just peeking over the top of the container and not touching each other. Fill in with soil and pat gently, leaving the neck and shoulders of the bulb exposed. Water well and place in a cool sunny spot.
Within two weeks sprouts will appear, requiring more frequent watering. In four to six weeks the exotic blooms will appear. By starting a new pot every few weeks, it is possible to have amaryllis blooming in the house from December to spring.
Holiday floral decorations and gifts are not limited to bulbs. Weave tiny lights through a ficus tree or other upright plant. Gather several plants together and shine a colored lamp on them. Place a brightly colored bow in a plant with dark green foliage. Attach a few favorite holiday trinkets along the holder that suspends hanging plants.
Be creative. Your holiday plant projects will brighten the season, their blooms lasting throughout many of the dark weeks of winter that follow.
-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.