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Gardening in late November? Are we crazy? Most everyone we know is consumed with holiday decorating, shopping and entertaining, but you can still squeeze in a little winter gardening to satisfy your green thumb. And beautiful blooming plants make excellent gifts for gardening friends and kids.

We can’t discuss holiday plants without mentioning the classic poinsettia. This plant has undergone a spectacular transformation over the years. New varieties seem to pop up every season. A favorite this year are the variegated varieties Ruby Frost, Picasso, and Christmas Beauty Queen. Or for something really eye-catching, check out golden-orange shades of Autumn Leaves.

If you are a non-traditional decorator, why not try a blue or lavender poinsettia? Fantasy poinsettias are a new trend in the market. The colors are spray-painted onto the plant just before shipping. Often glitter is added for even more glamour.

They are also breeding poinsettias for other desirable qualities like resistance to breakage and cooler temperatures. The Princettia series, bred by the folks who gave us Million Bells and Surfinia Petunias, have a compact habit, many more flowers and longer bloom time. They are available in an incredibly vivid pink and a clear white. They do go fast though.

Some people have trouble keeping poinsettias looking their best, so here are some tips. Keep the plant where it is very sunny and warm. Bright light conditions really help keep the foliage looking nice and the flower color more vivid. Avoid over-watering which can cause leaves and flowers to collapse, especially when the room is a bit chilly. If you need to put the plant in a dark corner for decorating purposes just be aware that the blooms won’t last as long and the leaves will probably start to yellow prematurely.

Another traditional holiday plant is the Christmas or Thanksgiving Cactus. These are actually two different plants but they are close relatives so both are often referred to as zygocactus.  Most plants for sale these days are really Thanksgiving cactus which are available in a wider array of flower colors and is easier to force into bloom. True Christmas Cactus are becoming harder to find.

To bring a zygocactus into bloom it helps to give the plant cooler temperatures in the fall as the days are beginning to shorten. This is easily done by leaving the plant outside in the fall until night temps get into the 40’s. Once indoors, place it in a room that is bright during the day, but not lit with artificial light at night. Keep it in this spot until the buds are about a half inch long and then move it. Zygocactus can live a very long time and are often handed down from gardener to gardener.

The tradition of bringing holiday plants and greenery into the home has been around for centuries. It helps us deny the winter’s snow and dark days. But who cares why when the plants are so lush and beautiful? Try a couple to brighten your holiday.