In the Garden:
Upper South
December, 2013
Regional Report

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Amaryllis and clivia are two easy-to-grow flowering houseplants to give to others -- or yourself!

Gifts in Bloom

Holiday time is an opportunity for gardeners to share their love of growing things by giving the gift of blooming plants. Here are some tips for making your gift plant giving a success, along with some suggestions for some choices beyond the traditional red poinsettia.

  • Try to match the gift to the recipient in terms of the kind of care the plant needs. If the person keeps their home on the cool side, azaleas and cyclamen are good choices; both also tolerate indirect bright light. Christmas cactus is very easy to grow but it needs bright sunlight. The fruit on Jerusalem cherries are harmful if consumed, so one of these would be inappropriate for families with children. Amaryllis and paper white narcissus bulbs are great choices for people who enjoy the process of watching them grow and develop. Gardenias are so temperamental that they should only be chosen for only the greenest of thumbs. Clivias are a great choice for gardeners who keep plants for years and years.

  • Another key element to success is to protect the plant from cold weather when it's being transported after purchase or delivered. Ideally, the store will wrap the plant in floral wrapping paper to protect it from cold temperatures and wind. If that's not possible, cover the plant with a plastic store bag. If the temperature is below freezing, preheat the car. Don't leave the plant in an unheated car. To keep the plant from tipping over in the car, have a box and newspaper to crumple around the pot and keep it secure.

While the poinsettia is undoubtedly the most popular holiday gift plant, garden centers, groceries, and other stores offer a number of other choices that are worthy of consideration. Here are a few to consider.

Often bought as a dormant bulb, this makes a great gift for do-it-yourselfers. Larger bulbs will produce more and bigger flowers. Besides a number of different varieties of the traditional red form, the red-and-white 'Apple Blossom' is the most popular amaryllis. There are lots of other named varieties, including ones in shades of pink and orange, white and greenish white, along with many different bicolored forms, double forms, miniatures, and exotic-looking spidery forms.

Paper White Narcissus
This is the no-brainer flower. Nestle the bulbs among some pebbles and add water. In a few weeks, you'll have wonderfully fragrant flowers. Alas, it's best to throw the bulbs away once flowering is done, which bothers some people. Another problem is the tendency of the plants to flop. It's been found that alcohol helps to alleviate this.

Possessing one of the plant world's great fragrances, freesias are difficult to grow, so they are best purchased as blooming plants. Sadly, it's also best to relegate them to the compost once blooming is finished. Some things must be appreciated regardless of their fleeting nature, or perhaps because of it.

Once a group of plants for specialists, orchids have become widely available. Of all those offered, phalaenopsis or moth orchids are the most adaptable to our homes, and easy to keep alive and rebloom. In addition to the traditional white butterfly flower form, there are many hybrids with a variety of colors and markings. There are also miniature forms.

A relative of the amaryllis that is also a South African native, clivias are large, long-lived plants with dark green, strap-like leaves. Clusters of bell-shaped flowers are borne on long stalks above the foliage. The most common form has orange flowers, but there are hybrids in shades of peach, near-white, red, and yellow. Although responding well to regular watering and feeding plus summering outdoors, clivias withstand a fair amount of neglect.

The widely varying begonia family includes many more members than the ubiquitous wax begonias that are so widely used as garden bedding plants. Although these can be grown indoors as houseplants, there are many other members to consider, whether for their flowers or colorful leaves. Your grandmother might have grown angel wing or rex begonias, but don't consider them old fashioned. They're just as beautiful and satisfying to grow as ever.

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