A plant can make a great small (or larger) gift for a host or gardener around the holidays. Starting in mid-November, grocery stores are full of poinsettias, evergreens, and plants meant to be given away.
While poinsettias and evergreens look great around the holidays, they do have their drawbacks. They are a bit boring. And they often don’t survive much past the end of December, which means they’ll be ending up in a landfill in the New Year. Sure, the tag on that evergreen says you can plant it outside. But when you live in Chicago, the ground is frozen, and it’s close to zero Farenheit outside, the plant is unlikely to thrive when planted outdoors.
If you’re looking for a gift plant, consider instead these “green” options that don’t need to be thrown away after Christmas.
Christmas Cactus (Holiday Cactus)
The Christmas cactus blooms in November or December, when days get short. These gift plants look fantastic when they are in bloom and covered with colorful flowers. They look perfectly fine after the flowers have faded. Best of all, they rebloom every year.
Several years ago, I sent my mother a plant labeled as a “Holiday Cactus” from White Flower Farm. It has rebloomed every year since then. My own Christmas cactus plants, bought at the grocery store for a few dollars each about five years ago, rebloom every December.
Christmas cactus needs bright indirect light, such as near a sunny window. Let the soil dry out between waterings. The most common bloom colors are white, pink and red.
A bay tree, which is a bit of a splurge and available mainly online, is an herb that becomes a shrub or small tree in warm climates. The bay tree, also called bay laurel, Laurus nobilis, or sweet bay, is the source of bay leaves used in cooking.
My bay tree, a gift from my sister, grows in a large pot in a sunny window. Bay trees grow slowly. Mine has increased in size by only a few inches in the past year, but I can expect that it will eventually get quite large. My bay tree spent the summer outside in light shade, but in cold climates bay trees must come indoors for the winter.
Bay trees live for 15 years or more. A bay tree does not mind being pot-bound and needs only infrequent feedings because of its slow growth. Plants do well with a little humidity and regular, deep waterings.
Often, an orchid plant’s flowers last several months. Indoor gardeners can get many types of orchids to rebloom with proper care. It’s helpful to match orchids to the growing conditions available in your recipient’s home.
There are several types of orchids. Phaleonopsis orchids are the common ones seen in supermarkets and also called “moth orchids.” Catteya orchids look like those on a prom corsage and need lots of light. Paphlopedlium orchids, which have flowers that look like a Lady’s Slipper, rebloom when grown in low light, such as a shaded or north-facing window.
Many orchids rebloom once or twice a year if well cared for. To ensure that your recipient can enjoy the flowers for as long as possible when they first get the plant, look for orchids with branched stems and unopened buds.
The Meyer lemon is a citrus fruit originating in China. It is believed to be a cross between a lemon and a Mandarin orange. The fruits are yellow, round and sweeter than a lemon.
Dwarf Meyer lemons are becoming more common online and in catalogs, but they can be a little expensive, making this a more special gift.
Because the Meyer lemon grows to be only 6 to 10 feet tall, it is often grown in containers as an ornamental plant. In cold climates, Meyer lemons must spend the winter indoors as house plants.
At my local Whole Foods, I recently saw rosemary topiaries for sale. This fragrant gift plant and cooking herb is often shaped into decorative forms, such as a Christmas tree or a ball. Rosemary makes an attractive (and useful) gift plant. Fresh rosemary is a real luxury in the winter.
Although I bought my rosemary plant in the spring at the local garden center, it did well in a pot all summer and has been fine since I brought it indoors. I placed it in a large sunny window.
Rosemary likes its soil to dry out between waterings and does well in a terracotta pot. Because rosemary needs 6 to 8 hours of sun, it should be grown under lights or in a very sunny window.