Less Traditional Holiday Plants


This is a terrific plant. As you can see by the larger of the two in this photo, I have had it for quite some time, since it has made its way into such a large pot. The smaller one has only been with me a season or two.

Suddenly, however, I am seeing it being touted as a December holiday plant. Now, I am all for non-traditional plants, but this really doesn’t work with my decorating style in December.

Yes, there’s a good bit of reddish color in here, but there’s too much orange and yellow. It just screams “autumn,” the season I just left. It’s perfect for any of the autumnal holidays–but not for my December holiday.

Then again, as I always say, if we all liked the same things, what a boring world this would be!

My Philodendron ‘Pink Princess’ Story

Monstera adansonsii

No, your eyes don’t deceive you–that photo is not a philodendron; it’s a monstera.

So why have I titled this post “my philodendron ‘pink princess’ story?” Well, take note of that monstera’s habit. It is going well–too well in my opinion. I specifically chose this variety because it was supposed to stay smaller, lower, and not be so vining.

But a plant will do what a plant wants to do–and that’s my caution to all of you who are lusting after ‘Pink Princess.’ This vining habit is what ‘Pink Princess’ will do. And that’s why I no longer have one. I couldn’t stand it. And so, it became compost.

So that’s my story about one of the world’s trendiest, expensive plants: I composted it because I couldn’t stand its habit.

Obviously this was before it became so trendy, or I probably could have sold it to buy a small car or something. But that’s not me.

I’m more like a “love it or compost it” kind of person.

A Boxed Amaryllis

Okay, I did it. I really wanted to make sure that I got a white amaryllis this year. So when I saw this at my grocery store, I fell for it.

No variety specified, but okay.

This is what I found when I opened the box. Pretty impressive if I were giving this as a gift.

This is what I found when I took off that nice aerated cover. Ugh. The bulb is entirely buried–at least one third should be left exposed. And the mix is this impossible to re-wet peat.

I ran water through the potting mix several times. Of course it ran straight out the bottom. Then I thought that I would try to scrape some of the mix off the top of the bulb. That’s when I realized that despite my best attempt to moisten this container wasn’t going to happen.

So I re-potted it into a clay pot. You can’t quite tell that I have left some of the bulb above the potting mix because so much of that peat still clings to it. It will eventually wash off, but I am not a fan of over-saturating bulbs.

I am sure this will turn out fine–it has the tips of two flower stalks already showing.

And as a boxed amaryllis goes, this is definitely better than most. Now, if it just turns out to be white, it will be a home run!

The Anti-Poinsettia

Aglaeonema ‘Siam Aurora ‘

Like last Friday, I thought I would focus on a plant that you might be happy to have in your home long past the holidays, and yet has enough red and green coloring to do double duty as a Christmas plant.

I write about these plants a lot. This is an aglaeonema, or Chinese Evergreen. As a general rule, I avoid common names and try yo use the botanical ones, particularly when they refer to a place so as not to avoid offending anyone. But correct botanical names also assures you that you are going to get the correct plant when you go to the garden center–or are searching out a particularly unusual plant online.

I have several of these plants and honestly, this is the least colorful of them, if you can believe that! Or perhaps I should say that this is the one with the most muted colors. The others are far more colorful–but not in a holiday way.

This one–it’s probably ‘Silver Queen’ but since I got it at a box store, it came with no cultivar designation–another reason to shop at garden centers. You know what you’re buying! Anyway, this plant would also make a lovely, understated holiday statement.

My red variety is ‘Siam Aurora,’ and it too is one of the more muted reds out there. Breeders have developed splashier, more vibrant coloring for these–but this is fine for me.

These are easy care plants. I have had the red plant at least 5 years, only re-potted it twice and it has never had any issues with insects or disease. None of my aglaeonema have had any issues, in fact.

I keep them in west or shaded east windows. They like bright, indirect light.

So if you are looking for a plant that you can enjoy either with–or instead or–poinsettias–give aglaeonema a try. You won’t be sorry.

A Non-Traditional Christmas Plant

Stromanthe tricolor

Yes, we are getting closer to the holidays. Thanksgiving in the United States is next week–it’s later this year–and between that and pandemic induced stress, some people have just jumped right over Thanksgiving into our biggest retail holiday, Christmas.

Of course, many will argue that “Christmas creep” gets earlier every year–but let’s keep that out of gardening. I am more interested in showing plants that will work for you that are not poinsettias.

There is nothing wrong with poinsettias, mind you. It’s just that many people choose not to grow them. Personally, I have trouble with them in my cold house. They are native to Mexico. They don’t do well in a house in New England kept at 62 degrees.

But the lovely stromanthes, above, has no trouble with my cooler home. I have read that they are finicky but this plant has proven very trouble free for me. I keep it in a western exposure indoors and take it outside to a shaded eastern exposure for the summer.

It’s only been re-potted twice probably in 10 years, so it’s a slow grower for me. It’s never had an insect issue.

And, while I am not one of those who posts videos, I will tell you that its leaves do move in relationship to light. I can hear them, and then I will look over and see them settling. So that’s just a neat aside.

This is a close-up of the leaves. They are just lovely. The back sides are solid maroon.

This plant would make a nice, untraditional holiday plant. And unlike a poinsettia, you will not mind having it around the rest of the year.

More About Holiday Cactus

Schlumbergera Coral Red

On Friday I talked about what I thought made Schlumbergera–or holiday cactus bloom.

Today I am going to talk about why it’s really not such a great idea to refer to them as cactus.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “cactus?” Sunny? Hot? Dry? All of those apply. In fact, most people either kill cactus by over-watering, or by never watering. Cactus can be a little tricky.

But these “Holiday” cactus actually aren’t in any way related to desert cactus or even to succulents, despite their somewhat fleshy leaves.

They are most closely related to orchids. Yes, they are epiphytes, which means if you were to find them in their native South America, (the Brazilian south eastern forests, to be exact) you would see them growing in trees or on rocks–and most definitely in the shade.

So that’s what makes their care a little trickier than just an ordinary house plant. They don’t want hot sun, like their “cactus” name implies. They like that “bright indirect light–filtered sunshine (think through a curtain, perhaps).

I keep mine in east and west windows and they seem to do just fine but I am at a fairly northerly latitude. If I were in Florida–or at the top of a mountain–I doubt that would work. I am in one of those places where we can’t make our own Vitamin D by going outside this time of year even without sunscreen!

And while we all know someone whose grandmother/mother/aunt had one of these for 70 years, the plants they are selling now are not those plants. Most are hybrids designed to bloom earlier and with far more blooms. I suspect we will be lucky if our plants last 70 years. I just lost my oldest at about 24 years.

How can we help get a long life from our plants? I grow mine dry and cool and I pot them in clay pots with cactus mix. So far that’s working out well for me.

“Holiday ” Cactus

“Holiday ” cactus beginning to bloom

On Wednesday, I had a photo of the first of my Christmas or Thanksgiving or Holiday or whatever else you want to call them cactus starting to bloom. Their genus is schlumbergera. Some people, including me, on occasion, call them zygocactus.

But to call them any sort of “cactus ” is really misleading. It’s about as misleading as attaching a holiday to the poor plant’s name! For example, the plant that I showed just beginning to bloom on November 11 of this year was in full bloom on the second weekend of October last year. So that would make it the “Indigenous Peoples/Veterans Day ” cactus. Hmm. I think not.

So if they’re not blooming for a specific holiday, what are they blooming in reaction to? Conventional wisdom says light and temperature but I have to believe that it’s strictly temperature. After all, the light doesn’t change from year to year. In fact, this year, to test that theory, I did exactly the same thing with these plants: putting them outside in the same spot and bringing them in at the same time and placing them back in the same windows.

And they are blooming a full month later–for the earliest among them. So I am going with temperature as the trigger. As soon as we had that very cold spell (and the snow) they set their buds.

At different latitudes, and in places without as much temperature fluctuation, your experience may be different. But that’s part of the joy of growing–and getting to know your plants.