In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Bouvardia and Cyclamen are perfect companions.
As the holidays come screaming down on us again, it's time to think of gift giving. Instead of shopping at crowded malls, fighting for parking places and buying a gift just for the sake of buying something, please consider doing your holiday shopping at your local nursery instead. There you will find no crowds and beautiful gift ideas in a cool, clean atmosphere. There are lovely gifts for anybody, not just the gardener on your list, such as wind chimes, bird feeders, and gloves. You'll also find a plethora of holiday gift plants.
When thinking of holiday gift plants, the poinsettia is usually the first that comes to mind. Personally, I hate the darn things and would rather set my hair on fire than bring one home, but that's because as a professional gardener at Sunset Magazine, I was in charge of caring for several thousand of them every holiday season. There was nothing I could do to prevent the ungrateful poinsettias from dropping leaves within a few heartbeats of moving them from the greenhouse to the offices. I tried everything; more fertilizer/less fertilizer, more water/less water, draining the saucers/allowing them to stand in water. Nothing I did would prevent the bottom leaves from turning yellow and dropping like quarters into a Salvation Army pot. So needless to say, I'm not going to spend any of my precious column space talking about such an ungrateful plant.
Cyclamen are beautiful holiday plants, and do very well indoors. They come in a range of colors from white to light pink to deep red and everything in between. Cyclamen are a winter-blooming, tuberous-rooted perennial that requires temperatures between 50-65 degrees; high humidity; bright, indirect light; and moist soil. With proper care, they will continue blooming well into the early spring. Fertilize monthly with a high phosphorous plant food designed for bulbs.
Here is one tip you may not be aware of: try not get water on the tuberous root. The best way to water cyclamen in containers is by immersion. Simply soak the entire pot in a basin of water for 15-30 minutes, then allow it to drain and replace it to its saucer.
Once the flowers have all died back, the plant will go into a period of dormancy. Move the plant outdoors, stop watering and tip the pot on its side for the summer months. At the end of the summer, check for new signs of green growth. At that point, repot the cyclamen in a fast draining soil and fertilize. In six weeks, you should begin to see new growth and buds forming.
Another holiday favorite is the Christmas cactus. These blooming favorites are forest dwellers and not members of the desert cactus family, therefore requiring more water than their desert-dwelling cousins. There are several types of holiday cactus plants including Thanksgiving-, Christmas-, and Easter-blooming varieties. These plants brighten a winter room with their abundant blooms.
The Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) can be identified by the sharply serrated leaves.These hardy succulent plants bloom around Thanksgiving, hence their name. They require partial shade and regular water. Frequent low strength applications of fertilizer will encourage a lush bloom, but they also need cool nighttime temperatures to set buds and 12 to 14 hours of darkness beginning mid September. No outside light source should shine on plants during this period. They are hardy to 35 degrees F. Once you begin to see buds, step up your fertilizer schedule.
I like to set several small containers of blooming plants into a lined basket to give as gifts. I usually select plants that all require the same type of care and provide a short description of their requirements to the recipient. Top off the containers with some decorative moss for a finishing touch and you have a gift fit for a king!
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