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Issue Date: October 2004 Issue


Winter Greenery

Poinsettias are pretty. But if that's the only holiday plant you know, then it's time to expand your horizons. We asked a handful of local plant experts for their advice on bringing some truly unique blooms into your home this holiday season.


Follow these six ideas for bringing the outdoors in this holiday season and sprucing up your usual mix of holiday plants will be a snap.
Jenny Lupica

Tree Alternatives

Whether real or artificial, some people are simply sick of the traditional Christmas tree. Petitti's Garden Center reports that people often come to them this time of the year in search of a Cat Palm. This type of palm tree can hold ornaments and gives the holidays an unseasonably tropical feel.

Others looking for something different opt for the Norfolk Island Pine, a tree that is not cut down, but lives in its own pot to be used year after year. The pine, which has featherlike needles, ranges from 10 inches to 4 feet high. The only catch is they're picky trees and require a temperature of at least 65 degrees and frequent misting if they're going to be decorated with lights.

Others go completely the other way and opt for a blatantly artificial Christmas tree. Plantscaping Inc., the company responsible for putting holiday touches on The Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland and the Penton Media Building, features some unique artificial options at its Cleveland showroom. Owner Nancy Silverman says an easy way to put a special spin on your tree is choosing an unusual color. While many people have a blue spruce, not many choose white, hot pink or metal shades. She says silver, gold and copper are some of the most interesting trees in their showroom. "The silver tree has definitely come back," she says. "It's retro."

Another fun choice is the feather tree, which is made of burgundy feathers and is a popular choice for trendier homes, according to Silverman. Of course, if you're allergic to feathers, maybe the swirl tree, which loops like a corkscrew, is more your speed. Silverman says the only rule is choosing something you really like, adding that decorating is "much more about the winter holiday and how it's special to you."

Poinsettias are pretty. But if that's the only holiday plant you know, then it's time to expand your horizons. We asked a handful of local plant experts for their advice on bringing some truly unique blooms into your home this holiday season.

Christmas cactus

They definitely haven't written a holiday song in honor of the schlumbergera, usually just called the Christmas cactus, but plenty of people are buying the festive plant to decorate their homes in the winter. The common name given to the cactus is strange because it actually blooms around Thanksgiving and is known for succulent, flat leaves and bright pink flowers. Barb Span, salesperson at Breezewood Gardens and Gifts in Bainbridge, says the plant is very hands-off and needs to get almost dry before it is given water. Span says she recommends the low-maintenance plant a lot, "especially when a pregnant woman comes in." The unique decoration can range from $5 to $20, depending on size, and can grow up to 13 inches.

Paper-white narcissus

Even those individuals who are usually plant killers will be able to master the art of growing winter bulbs indoors. You simply take a shallow pot, add some soil and a little bedrock, nestle in the bulb and add water. The bulb will sit above the soil while the roots grow underneath. One of the perfect plants to grow in this fashion is the paper-white narcissus. The $1 bulb resembles a daffodil and is known for its extremely fragrant white flower. If you begin growing the bulb in October, in seven to eight weeks you should have a bunch of beautiful blooms. "They're basically foolproof; you can't go wrong," says Noelle Clark, director of communications at Petitti Garden Centers, which has several Northeast Ohio locations. But she does warn, "Trying to make them re-bloom is not as easy."

Amaryllis

Marcia Hawkins, retail manager at Uncle John's Plant Farm in Olmsted Falls, says amaryllis is a great $8 bulb for the holidays. It can be planted in the same fashion as the paper-white narcissus, only it shouldn't be planted until November. Hawkins promises that the tropical blooms, ranging from red to white to pink, will dazzle you. Usually, amaryllis can be found in a kit containing the bulb, a shallow pot and instructions. At less than $10, it's a great gift idea. "Watch where you place it," Hawkins cautions. "If it's by a door or a register, it will stress the plant out." She also recommends planting the bulb in a glass hyacinth vase, which is a pear-shaped glass container for growing all varieties of bulbs. The water goes in the bottom portion and the bulb sits in the shallow neck section. Some elaborate vases are more than a foot tall, allowing you to watch the roots extend to their full length.

Cyclamen

"If they don't want poinsettias, then I do cyclamen," says Phil Calabrese, a division manager at Royal Interior Plantscape in Cleveland. Last year, Calabrese had the job of preparing the holiday decor for Legacy Village in Lyndhurst, and he used plenty of this indoor plant. "It's a beautiful flower. It almost looks artificial," he says. The blooms come in reds, purples and pinks and oddly resemble a pair of lips. Calabrese says indoor gardeners should avoid overwatering this plant. Mark Conley, manager at Lee Road Nursery in Shaker Heights, says customers often pick up the plant for an unusual table accent. With a 6-inch pot ranging from $7 to $15, Conley recommends picking off dead blooms and feeding the plant with a high-phosphate fertilizer to extend its life.

Rosemary

Indoor herbs are a popular way to decorate in the winter because you can grow them into stunning topiary shapes. Tim Stopper, owner of Maria Gardens in North Royalton, says his store sells rosemary crafted to look like miniature evergreen trees. Not only will it be a fragrant centerpiece for a table, but it's also a practical plant since you can use the extra growth in hearty holiday meals. Another reason to spend the $20 on a rosemary tree in the winter: The herb stands for remembrance, and that's really what the holidays are all about. One thing to consider before purchasing a rosemary plant, though, is that they're pretty finicky. "You have to keep on top of them," Spans says. Her tricks to keeping them fresh are exposing them to bright light and watering the foliage, as well as the soil, to keep the plant extra moist. Span warns busier gardeners to pick something a little less demanding.

Orchids

Petitti Garden Center's Clark says cool-weather orchids are very easy to take care of and come in white, yellow and violet. The most popular styles are the moth orchids or lady-slippers, both of which come in solid colors as well as a striped variation. Span says you can purchase the orchid already potted for around $20 to $45, meaning all you have to do is add water. "People hear the word 'orchid' and get nervous," Span says, but she adds that they're really a lot easier to care for than you might think. "Number one, you always want to keep your humidity high in the house," Clark says. Plants are accustomed to a certain moisture level. The more you allow them to stay in that range, the happier they'll be. Clark also recommends spray-misting the flowers every day or two to help maintain the plant's moisture level.


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