Published December 2004

Christmas is coming soon, and that means some folk are happy (finished shopping) and some are in a panic (haven’t).  If you’re in the latter group, and that person needing a gift is a gardener or plant lover, there’s still plenty of time to find them a fine present, one they can enjoy for weeks or months.

One gift I’ve bought my wife more than once is a box of amaryllis, daffodils, hyacinths, or similar bulb plants for winter forcing.  They’re available at most department stores, and come with full instructions and equipment, needing only water and light which makes them a fine gift.  They’ll brighten the eye as they gradually grow larger, and form buds, then blossoms.  Hyacinths, particularly, smell great in a winter locked room, and a clump of daffodils or whatever, adds welcome color.

Those who are dedicated, like a challenge, and don’t want to cheat with ready-to-go plants can force their own.  It isn’t hard.  You’ll need a special bulb pan, which is nothing more than a clay pot available at most garden centers, a decent soil mixture, and a place for cool and dark storage of the potted bulbs.  A good potting soil is three parts garden loam, two parts peat moss, and one part builders sand.  Don’t add nutrient, manure, compost, or other fertilizers.

Fill the pan with potting mix, set the bulbs firmly in the mixture, and add more soil until only the tips show.  Water thoroughly, then place them in a cool, dark spot with a temperature between 35 and 50 degrees.  In 12 to 20 weeks they should be ready to emerge and can be planted on a plant rack, window shelf, or other spot out of direct sunlight.  When the plant(s) changes from white to green, move it to a sunny location with a warmer temperature of up to 65 degrees.  Again, lots of work, but if you like a challenge, here’s one.

There are other plants that will brighten anyone’s day.  You might consider a Christmas cactus, for example.  I have one on my plant stand in a south facing window, and it’s thriving.  In fact, if I don’t do something silly like repeatedly over-watering it, the plant might last for years.  African violets are another good choice, and they can last all winter too, even longer.  Bromelids are always good, as are foliage plants, and who doesn’t like a nice, deep green fern?  If you buy one of the latter, do tell the gifted person that they should turn it every few days.  Otherwise, the leaves on the sunless side will begin to die and fall, and the result will be less than pretty.

Does that special someone like to cook?  Give them a cluster of herbs.  These are available in small pots in many grocery stores and supermarkets and are certain to brace up any lackluster salad in winter months.  It’s a good idea to repot them, adding more potting soil, and a bit of nutrient occasionally, and place them in a window where they’ll receive some sunlight.  Herbs are another gift that just keeps on giving.

Kids always get lots of toys, clothes, and other necessities, but do they ever get plants?  Why not give your favorite child a pot already planted with something that grows rapidly like lettuce or radishes, needing only water to start them growing.  You might be surprised at their pleasure in watching tiny seedlings turn into edible vegetables, and their careful picking of new salad ingredients. Much better than a plastic toy.

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