Caring for plants given as gifts during the Christmas Season.

'Tis the Season


December, 1994 was the first time I published this article in my newsletter. It was to be an outline of plants traditionally used at this time of year and where these traditions came from. I also decided to explain how to care for plants that are often given as gifts. This year I have added more plants (mostly houseplants) in the same spirit.



Spineless succulents, Christmas Cactus originally came from the Brazilian Rainforest. Schlumbergera russelliana blooms at Christmas. S. truncata (or Crab Cactus) blooms near Thanksgiving. The newly discovered ' Queen Cactus' or S. orssichiana can bloom several times a year but is still hard to find. Christmas Cactus want bright indirect light and evenly moist soil like that of their home where they grow high up in the crotches of trees where rotting leaves have accumulated. Growers manipulate heat and light to get the plants to bloom at the time they want. It will be some time before you know when the plant will bloom as a houseplant. 70-degree temperatures are fine and slightly cooler nights. Withhold all fertilizer when in bloom. After they drop their flowers cut back on watering, temps above 40 degrees and bright indirect light. In spring add a 1/2 strength soluble fertilizer to water at each watering. Hang plants in a tree outside when temps are reliably above 40 degrees. 80 % shade.  Soil mix 6 parts peat, 4 parts perlite and plastic pot. Renew soil every 3 years.


Likes sandy soil, 4.5-6 ph.

Hardy from zone 3 (-40 F) to zone 8 (10 F) Wintergreen or Gaultheria procumbens is a vigorous, shade tolerant evergreen woodland groundcover with pink tinged white flowers in May followed in fall by a wintergreen flavored red berry. In winter the evergreen leaves (used for making wintergreen tea) turn red. The prostrate stems easily root in an acid, moist soil and will grow to 6 inches in height.


Euphorbia pulcherria or poinsettia is a native of wet wooded ravines and on rocky hillsides in Mexico and is available in a range of colors. Blue red 'freedom', orange red 'success', 'nut cracker pink', 'top white', 'lemon drop', coral 'nobelstar', pink and white 'peppermint', mix of peach, pink and wine 'Monet'. Mid September on give them 8 hours of sun per day. Needs at least 14 hours of darkness for 8 weeks for best bracts to form. Don't let temps fall below 62 at night 70's during day in a location free of drafts. Let soil dry out between thorough watering and don't fertilize Put in closet from noon on (total dark).. After flowering keep it almost dry and prune plant stem back to a stump until May when rewatering will produce new leaves and flowers. This period after flowering corresponds to the dry season.  If planted outside after May plant in part shade.


Vaccinium Vitis-idaea minus or Mountain Cranberry


In the 1700's Mistletoe was carried to the high alter of the Cathedral in York and amnesty proclaimed. Visum Album is the original European Mistletoe. In the US Phoradendron serotinum is used for decoration (Dictionary of Horticulture)

Mistletoe robs its host of water and minerals

is propagated in nature by the mistle thrush (Turdus miscivorus) which wipes its beak, in March or April, of the clinging remains of its meal of mistletoe berries onto the branch of a tree, the crevices of its bark from which the mistletoe will sprout in spring.

old apple trees are the favorite host

Druids who found mistletoe growing in Oak trees would cut it from the tree with a golden knife, it would be held on a white cloth by a virgin and transported in a cart drawn by white bulls that were later sacrificed

was supposed to heal many diseases, keep witches away and burned in the proper way would provide a good crop.


The Blackthorn and Mistletoe that has been hung in kitchens (wreathe?) since preceding New Year is burned on Jan 1st. It is thought that without this ceremony there would be no new crop.


Erica carnea zone 4 or -25 degrees. Native to mountains of eastern Europe. Most are 6-9 inches tall with a spread of maybe 2 feet.(Foxhollow fairy, King George, Pink Spangles, Porters red, ) Erica darleyensis is maybe 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide.(Darley Dale, Furzey). Erica erigena or Irish Heath can be up to 12 feet. Grow best in well drained acid soils like Rhododendrons prefer but in full sun. Prune immediately after flowering. Use straw, evergreen branches or whatever to protect from drying winds in the absence of snow.   Acid fertilizer in spring.



days 60-65, nights 45-50, high humidity, bright indirect light, water only from bottom to avoid rot, after it stops blooming withhold water and wait for foliage to desiccate, remove corms from soil and store in dried peat moss in cool dry place, repot corms in july so top of corm is visible, place outside in shade, when new growth is visible keep soil evenly moist and use a water soluble plant food, to induce flowering place in window with morning sun and cool temps in 50's.


days 65-70, nights 60-65, induce flowering with high humidity, no drafts and 4-6 hours direct light each day, in spring fertilize with miracid and pinch prune to shape, water only after soil becomes dry, in summer place outdoors in shade and water when dry, in fall bring indoors.


days 70-75, nights 50-60, half day of bright sun, let soil dry between waterings, low humidity, in spring repot, pinch prune and fertilize with a water soluble plant food, after there is no risk of frost put outside in part shade, in fall bring inside before frost, September and October provide 50 degree temps and 14 hours total darkness each night.


Discovered 1892 in Northern Tanzania by Baron Walter von St. PaulIllaire the Governor of Usambara District. The new Genus was named Saintpaulia after its discoveror. The seeds of the few plants collected in the wild were bred by a Los Angeles based Nursery all seedlings finally being culled except the finest 10. Almost all of todays thousands of cultivars have been bred from those 10 but the plant in its native habitat faces extinction due to logging and tea plantations.

Days 80-85, nights 60, lightly shaded morning sun, evenly moist soil, high humidity, no drafts, small leaves show too much sun, long leaf stalks and dark green leaves along with poor flowering show not enough sun, special African violet fertilizer.


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