Nicole Hackett, Garden Girl

Holiday plants to brighten the season

Topiaries, cyclamen, poinsettias, amaryllis and Christmas cactus are some of December’s most gifted plants.

They may come wrapped in colorful foil or planted in color bowls or terracotta containers. You can give them to a host, teacher or someone who provides a service for you. They are mementos of the season.

If you’re received living gifts this holiday season, here are some tips for successful growing.

Topiaries are evergreen plants grown into decorative shapes. Sometimes they are made of small ivy and grown on wire frames; other times they’re cypress plantings trained and shaped into single or double tier trees. Herbs, fruitless olives and boxwood type plants are also grown as cones. Topiaries make lovely additions to homes, entryways and patios. Many contain water-wise plant material, so be careful not to overwater – especially when kept in the home.

Cyclamen are bulb-grown plants with fancy leaves and flowers that resemble shooting stars. They can be a welcoming touch on a porch or incorporated in combination planters. This plant is often misunderstood. They are beautiful throughout winter but start to cycle to sleep as spring begins to warm. This is the time to install cyclamen into the ground in a shady spot. Once fall is back upon us, your cyclamen will return for another season of enjoyment.

New vibrant colors join the traditional red and white of holiday poinsettias.

Poinsettia plants are the most popular holiday gift. Bracts of red, wine, white, speckled and now dyed shades of purple and blue stand atop leafy bushes. The trick with poinsettias is not to let them dry out too much – or allow them to be too wet. They are indoor plants that do not appreciate cold nights or drafty locations. Many folks keep their poinsettia plants alive well past the new year, and we have heard stories of plants lasting upward of five years. Unless you force a bloom using darkness, the color that you enjoy the year you receive it may be the only time you get this plant to bloom.

Amaryllis is another bulb plant that is forced into bloom for our December enjoyment. Large, lily-shaped flowers of red, white, pink and sometime bi-color stand tall above strappy foliage. This dramatic bulb is a lovely addition to any kitchen counter or dining table. After bloom, plant your amaryllis in the garden. It will bloom again around June each year. They are easy to grow and are deer- and gopher-resistant. The flowers are showy, with a bulb usually giving only three to four blooms. They are so impressive that you’ll add to your collection every year.

Many folks have memories of a Christmas cactus. This succulent can grow with little to no care for decades. In the nursery industry, we call them Zygocactus. There are three selections that bloom at different seasons, depending on the shape of the leaf. Your Zygocactus can bloom in November, December or April. They are easy to propagate and share. As with all succulents, protect them from frost and overwatering. Feed them a couple times a year, and you may need to change the soil every year or two.

Nicole is the Garden Girl at R&M Pool, Patio, Gifts and Garden. You can contact her with ­questions or comments by email at

Nicole Hackett
Nicole Hackett

Nicole is the Garden Girl at R&M Pool, Patio, Gifts and Garden. You can contact her with ­questions or comments by email at