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Deck your halls with house plants.


Does Christmas foliage have to be exclusively prickly evergreens, transient poinsettias, and plastic holly and mistletoe? Must you hide your houseplants in a back bedroom when preparing your home for holiday guests? Why not enhance the homeyness and vitality of the season by integrating your houseplants into your Christmas decor? A little sprucing up can make houseplants that novel element to make this year's decorations special.

A good way to pattern Christmas arrangements with houseplants is to group small, detailed plants under broader-leafed, larger ones. It is usually best to combine only one variety of flowering plant with green foliage.

If you have tall houseplants, such as palms, bay laurels, or Ficus benjamina, just set seasonal flowering plants in the tall plants' pots and camouflage the smaller plants' pots with bark, sphagnum, or Spanish moss. Stick to colors that coincide with the rest of your decor. Cyclamen ranges from white to pink to red. Kalanchoes come in yellows, oranges, and many shades of red.

You can also reverse the arrangement and underplant poinsettias with such small houseplants as variegated miniature ivy, Swedish ivy, miniature peace lily, Dallas fern, or Boston fern. But avoid strongly variegated plants that might distract from the poinsettias.

Display a large Christmas cactus by itself, preferably on a pedestal so the branches can dangle. Small cactuses can be combined in a centerpiece with miniature ferns or miniature ivy. Amaryllis is another plant best displayed alone, perhaps in a decorative pot.

But you say your houseplants are in no condition to sit alongside the store-bought seasonal ones? Following a few simple guidelines will have them looking their best as they deck your halls.


Take a close look at your plants. Check the stems, undersurfaces of the leaves, bottoms of the pots, and all the places insects may hide. If you observe any problems, diagnose them (local nurseries or extension agents can help if your books fail you) and provide a good control before you set the plants in position for your holiday display.

If you are lucky enough to find all is well with your plants, you might want to do what I do and practice a little preventive medicine. Simply spray the foliage with one of the new insecticidal soaps (the modern version of grandma's remedy, 1 part mild liquid soap dissolved in 12 parts lukewarm water). Insecticidal soaps keep plants looking clean and smother any insects that might be looking for a happy winter home indoors. After cleaning, don't place sun-loving plants back in the sun until the foliage has dried completely. Plants with fuzzy leaves, such as African violets, and cactuses and other succulents are slightly more temperamental than other houseplants. For best results, simply spray them with lukewarm water or a recommended chemical control if they develop any specific problems.

Lightening Up

Indoor plants should be given the brightest light possible during the winter months. In fact, if you clean your windows as part of your holiday preparations, you will find that your plants will benefit too. Even shade-loving plants will need good light, though not the direct sun, during these months of low natural light.

Humoring Humidity

The low wintertime humidity in our homes is as hard on our plants as it is on us. Increase the humidity by grouping your plants together in decorative arrangements or by placing them on trays of pebbles filled with water. (Be sure the pots do not sit in the water or you will have other problems.)

Potting and Repotting

If your plants are "pot bound,' repot them in a new pot no more than two inches larger, or simply prune the top and the roots in equal proportion and repot into the same pot with fresh soil. Often a plant serves a specific decorative function indoors, so it is important not to allow it to outgrow the space.

To repot, turn the pot upside down and knock it against the edge of your workbench; be sure to support the plant. If you observe a tangled mass of roots, it is time to repot. Use a good soil mix, such as one-half vermiculite and one-half commercial potting soil. Add a little peat moss for such acidloving plants as azaleas and a little sand for cactuses and succulents.

Because cleanliness is extremely important in the nurturing of indoor plants, scrub an old clay pot well with soap and water and soak it overnight in a solution of one cup of bleach and ten cups of water. If stains and salts are still encrusted on the pot, give it a final scrubbing with household vinegar.

If you are using a new clay pot, simply soak it overnight to fill the pores with water. Plastic pots need only be washed with soapy water and rinsed well. You can grow excellent plants in either type of pot; just water less often if you use plastic ones. They don't breathe the way clay ones do, and so they hold water in longer. In fact, plastic pots are best for the person who doesn't have time to tend to plants regularly. On the other hand, the person who enjoys daily nurturing of indoor plants often has a tendency to overdo it, especially when watering. If that is your garden style, then clay pots will work best for you.

Place a coffee filter over the drainage hole to prevent the soil from washing out. Large filters can be cut down to fit the pot. For improved drainage, fill the bottom of the pot with foam packing material, a lightweight, clean substitute for gravel.

Add enough soil mix so that the top of the soil ball will be one inch below the rim, which will prevent water and soil from spilling over the edge. Just before placing the plant in position, make three or four knife slashes on the soil ball to encourage new root growth. When the plant is in position, eliminate any air pockets. Use a spoon to tamp the soil firmly around the soil ball; then, add enough soil to cover it. Soak the soil thoroughly and allow water to run out the drainage hole. Newly repotted plants should be placed in bright light--but not direct sunlight--for about two weeks.

Watering, Watering, Everywhere

More indoor plants die from being overwatered than from any other cause. They receive much less light than they did outdoors during the summer; consequently, they will grow less vigorously and thus will need less water. Be aware of the light levels your plants are growing in, and observe their growth rate. (If you are new to indoor plant growing you might like to invest a few dollars in a water meter.) Water your plants until the water runs out the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot. Be sure to empty the saucers your pots are displayed in. Never let the pot sit in water, or the plant may rot.

One of the worst things you can do to your indoor plants is to water a little every few days. The objective in indoor plant growing is to encourage the plants to grow deeply into the pot. The result will be a stronger plant with more ability to survive and provide you with enjoyment. Get that water to the bottom of the pot! The deeper you water, the deeper the roots will be. Thorough watering also leaches harmful salts that might otherwise accumulate.

Cactuses and succulents break all the watering rules: they should be allowed to go quite dry before watering again. However, like all plants, they too will need more water when actively growing.

Facing Your Feed

As with water, your plants will not need as much fertilizer as when they were growing actively outdoors during the summer months. If you add a slow-release granular fertilizer to the soil when repotting, the plants won't need feeding again for three months. If you opt for a liquid fertilizer program, fertilize about three weeks after repotting and every week thereafter (dilute fertilizer to one-fourth strength).

You will notice three numbers on fertilizer packages. Choose formulations with a high first number for green plants (the nitrogen content, which promotes green growth) and a high second number for flower production (the phosphorous content, which promotes flowering). The third number is potassium; all indoor plants need some of it for general growth and development.

Cactuses and succulents are the exception again in fertilizing. They will thrive with just one application of plant food in the early spring.

Don't Leaf Without It

The last step in revitalizing your houseplants is to remove any yellowed leaves and trim brown tips back. Don't be afraid to trim your plants--it's as easy as trimming your hair. You will be surprised at how much better your plants will look.

Smelling the Roses?

If you decide to increase your collection of indoor plants for your holiday display, you might want to consider adding some fragrant plants. Several types of jasmines are available in nurseries around the country. If you have a sunny window, their blooms and fragrance can delight you for many weeks during the wintertime. Of course, gardenias are always wonderful while in bloom, provided you can give them sunlight and good humidity. It's fun to add a new element to your indoor gardening experience, and the fragrance will certainly please you and your holiday guests.

If your holiday flowering plants include poinsettias, kalanchoes, Christmas cactuses, etc., you will find that your newly cleaned indoor foliage plants can be used to set off these old-time favorites. By the time the holidays roll around, you will be delighted with the results of just a little time spent now sprucing up your indoor greenery.

Photo: An entry-hall planter greets guests with poinsettia underset with ivy and philodendron.

Photo: Clever arrangements enhance the beauty of many Christmas plants; others, such as Christmas cactus and amaryllis, should be displayed alone.

Photo: The author frees a flower's pinched roots in preparation for its role in beautifying a Christmas display.
COPYRIGHT 1987 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Henke, Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Dec 1, 1987
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