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Beyond Poinsettias

You deserve better than that for the holidays



It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas when echeverias (below left) are in blossom, and the leaves of flapjack kalanchoe (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora, above) resemble an immense blossom.

Photos by Kindra Clineff

Psst. Come here! There’s a holiday plant that’s not high maintenance. Yes, really!

Imagine going through the holidays without fussing over a needy houseplant. Imagine a windowsill bristling with gorgeous growing things that require almost zero care. Yes, you can give a green gift without taking a guilt trip afterward. The secret is out of the bag.

Amaryllis
There is no plant easier than an amaryllis. This is one instance when you can just sit back and watch while a bulb performs on autopilot. Isn’t that just what you need for the busy holiday season? Actually, amaryllis is just a common name for hippeastrum, cultivars of bulbous species native to South America that form immense trumpet-shaped flowers crowning stems that stretch one to two feet above the soil. They come in colors ranging from white through burgundy red with pinks abounding. Some have a hint of green in the throats of their petals, others blush peach. The single-flowering versions look most like trumpets, and doubles resemble snowflakes, so there’s always that 

holiday association. ‘Rapido,’ ‘Amalfi,’ ‘Merry Christmas,’ ‘Razzle Dazzle,’ ‘Snow White,’ and ‘Hot Lips’ will blossom for the holidays, if the bulbs are planted in late September. Note of caution: Amaryllis (and all members of the lily family) are toxic to cats.

Give amaryllis good light to achieve glowing flower colors. Keep the pot size snug around the bulb. Do not overwater. When they’re happy, amaryllis often stage repeat performances throughout winter: a gift that keeps on giving.

Orchids
Promise anything, but give an orchid. Not only are orchids incredibly rewarding and amazingly low maintenance, but they are now readily available and affordable. Get a tropical lady’s slipper (Paphiopedilum cvs.) or a moth orchid (Phalaenopsis cvs.) and the pride of accomplishment will continue long after the holidays. Not only do they look suitably snazzy, but these ultra-sophisticated plants are amazingly easy if you choose something accessible—such as a tropical lady’s slipper or moth orchid. And you can give them as gifts knowing that they won’t be a maintenance burden. All an orchid requires is indirect light and water about once a week. Skip the ice cubes. Tropical orchids will not be thrilled with frigid water.

Christmas Cactus
Christmas cacti have come a long way since your grandmother’s old standby. For one thing, the color range has increased to hit various shades of yellow, orange, fuchsia, red, and white. In that broad spectrum, even tiny cuttings of Christmas cacti send out large flowers that look like someone married a shrimp with a gaping dragon.

Although they sometimes get their holidays mixed up and open for Thanksgiving or Easter rather than Christmas, they generally blossom within the dormant season timeframe—just when you need pizzazz. And they thrive on neglect. Overwatering might lead to some grumbling from your Christmas cactus.

Succulents
Several succulents are a cinch in midwinter and often blossom when you need flowers the most. Grow an echeveria, and you might even see blossoms in addition to remarkable rosettes of fascinating foliage. Ditto for flaming katy (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana), (pictured to the right) which performs to beat the band in the flowering department. You can even rescue a flapjack kalanchoe (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora) from the garden. 

The trick to succulents—and all of the plants mentioned here—is to give them a natty presentation. Find a container that really does the plant justice, echoing foliage color and form and playing up the inherent architectural lines of the plant. And then just practice benign neglect. Although a south-facing window is optimal, most survive in a bright east or west-facing exposure. As far as watering is concerned, wait until the soil is dry before serving drinks. Talk about easy.

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