Now that freezing temperatures have arrived in Greater Columbus, there are very few gardening tasks for gardeners to accomplish outdoors. If you are like me and you are already itching to start growing something again, consider growing some plants for holiday decorations.
Live plants can add a festive touch to whatever type of holiday decorations you choose, and gardeners who already are feeling the need to get their hands back into the soil can put their green thumbs back to work by growing some traditional holiday plants. Let’s take a look at some plants which can be grown for use as indoor holiday decorations.
Forcing paperwhite bulbs
Consider adding a different twist to the traditional greenery trimmed with red and gold accents this season by forcing paperwhite bulbs to add elegant white flowers to any holiday decor. Paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta) are bulbs in the same genus as daffodils, and their delicate and scented white and yellow-tinged flowers atop long slender stems are the perfect backdrop for most holiday decorations and provide a color contrast for boughs of holiday greenery with traditional red ribbons and bows.
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Forcing is the term used to denote the flowering of a plant outside of its natural season, and most bulbs lend themselves well to forcing. Most flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinth and others can be forced to flower indoors during the winter, but these bulbs must go through a chilling period ranging from 3 weeks for daffodils to 16 weeks for tulips. Paperwhites and amaryllis are the only flowering bulbs that do not require a chilling period in order to flower because they are native to tropical locations.
Start paperwhites now for Christmas flowers
Paperwhites bloom four weeks after planting, so get started now in order to have blooms at the height of the holiday season. Most garden centers offer paperwhites for winter planting, with some offering bulbs already planted and growing in decorative pots. Paperwhites can be planted in potting soil but can also be grown without soil, in water on top of decorative gravel, stones or even marbles in holiday colors.
Part of the fun of forcing paperwhites for holiday decorations is choosing the container in which they will be grown. Bulbs can be grown in holiday-themed containers, vases, teapots, crocks, mason jars, or nearly any container that provides an accent to your holiday decorations. Single bulbs planted in jelly jars make excellent hostess or teacher gifts.
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To force paperwhites without soil, start by adding 1 to 2 inches of gravel or stones to the bottom of a container, then place the bulbs root side down on the stones (pointy side of the bulb up). Then place stones around the sides of the bulbs until just half of the bulb is showing above the stones. Then add water to a depth just below the bottom of the bulbs. Bulbs should not be sitting directly in the water. The container should be placed in a location with lots of light and water added as needed.
Forcing amaryllis bulbs for holiday decor
Amaryllis flowers in many shades of red, pinks, and white also make striking winter holiday decorations with their large trumpet-shaped flowers atop tall, stately stalks. Amaryllis (Hippeastrum genus) is a bulb which is native to Central and South Americas and derives its name from a Greek word that means “to sparkle” – and a grouping of these plants is sure to add some sparkle to your holiday décor.
These bulbs typically take six to seven weeks to flower after planting, but savvy gardeners can still have blooms in time for Christmas and New Year’s Day celebrations by purchasing pre-planted bulbs available at local garden centers and gift shops.
To care for your amaryllis, be sure to keep the soil below the top portion of the bulb to help prevent fungal disease. Water thoroughly when the soil feels dry to the touch, about once a week. Place it in a sunny window and rotate the pot occasionally to prevent the plant from leaning as it grows.
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Bring poinsettias out of the dark
If you have been tending your poinsettia plants from last December for re-blooming this holiday season, and you have been keeping your plant in total darkness for 12 hours each day for the past 10 weeks, by Thanksgiving, your plant should have developed colored bracts (or leaves). Poinsettias are short-day plants that need a period of uninterrupted darkness each day for 10 weeks to grow new bracts.
Once the new colored bracts have fully developed, you can end the daily dose of darkness and move the plant to a sunny location among your holiday décor. Be sure to keep the soil moist and cease fertilization.
Mike Hogan is an extension educator in agriculture and natural resources and an associate professor with OSU Extension.