Last minute green gifts

By Robin Volker

December 23, 2013

The holidays are upon us, and perhaps you have forgotten a gift for someone. A live plant is a great last minute gift whether that person is local or far away. Many nurseries will ship a beautiful live plant that your friend or family member can enjoy for weeks to come. Five choices you might consider are paperwhites, a rosemary tree, a Norfolk Island pine, ornamental peppers or a Cyclamen.

Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) are from the same specie as daffodils. These fragrant plants bear star-shaped flowers that will last four to six weeks. Gifts of paperwhites are often shipped as a kit of bulbs with instructions for planting in pebbles or soil. Once planted, set the container in a cool, dark place until green shoots appear. Then place the plant in a sunny place at about 65 degrees. When blooms begin, remove from direct sunlight and enjoy the sweet fragrance and beauty. Bulbs cannot be planted outdoors so when the blooms are spent, discard.

A second green gift choice is a rosemary tree (Rosmarinus officinalis). Rosemary trees look and smell wonderful. Choose a bright green, vigorous plant with no signs of browning or needle dropping. Rosemary trees need at least six hours of sunlight; a south-facing window is best. This plant rests during the winter, so water sparingly and make sure that it does not sit in excess water. It will enjoy a misting several times a day. Repot your rosemary tree in the spring. Select a pot that is two to four inches wider and deeper than the current pot. Use half strength houseplant fertilizer once a month.

Another tree that makes a great gift is the Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophyllu) with its soft, lush, dark green needles that resemble a true Christmas tree. The pine will be shipped decorated with lightweight decorations. As soon as the holidays are over, remove the decorations. Keep your Norfolk Island pine in indirect light. East or west-facing windows are best; turn it regularly. Feed it once a month with houseplant fertilizer. Water your tree when the top inch of soil is dry, making sure to not over water. It will enjoy frequent misting or the addition of a humidifier. There is no need to prune a Norfolk Island pine as it has a beautiful natural shape. It will grow slowly. You can repot it each year into a slightly larger container until it reaches the size you desire, then allow it to become root-bound to restrict its growth.

A colorful holiday houseplant is the ornamental pepper plant (Capsisum annuum). This plant produces tiny, decorative peppers in a variety of colors during the holiday season. These plants come from sunny, sub-tropic regions of South America and need at least four hours of sunlight. A south-facing window is its favorite choice. It enjoys a lot of humidity and does not like temperatures below 55 degrees F. Do not over water your pepper plant and allow the soil to dry slightly between watering. Fertilizer it twice a month until the peppers appear, then stop feeding the plant. You can pinch the stems when they are about six inches long to prevent leggy growth.

Last, but not least, is the lovely Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum). This holiday plant produces small flowers of shades of pink, red, magenta or white. The Cyclamen also has attractive heart-shaped leaves. It is important to avoid getting water on the crown of this plant. It is best to set the plant in a tray of water once a week and leave it to drink overnight. It enjoys low light; a north-facing window is a favorite spot. Move it away from the window on really cold nights. Remove the spent flowers, and the plant will continue to bloom for up to eight weeks. Once the flowering is done, the plant will go dormant. Allow the plant to dry out during the summer months. Before any new growth begins to appear in late summer, repot the plant. When the new growth begins, use a low nitrogen fertilizer every two weeks. After the blooms begin to emerge, stop feeding the plant. Keep it in cool temperatures (60-65 F) in the daytime and forties at night. Just about holiday time, you will have blooms again.

All of these plants are great gift ideas for others. You may want to buy one for yourself for some live holiday cheer.

Robin Volker is a Delaware County OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.