The Holidays Come to Life!
Some of our favorite plants for the garden can be enjoyed indoors and then planted outside after the holiday season.
By Jennifer Schamber
[This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener Nov/Dec 2016 issue.]
The holiday decorating season is upon us and many gardeners would love to extend the gardening season as long as possible. One easy way is to bring the outdoors in and, with some easy tips, some of our favorite plants for the garden can be enjoyed indoors and then planted outside after the holiday season.
Live Christmas Trees
A very nice holiday tradition for some families is to use a live conifer tree (in a pot or balled-and-burlapped) as a Christmas tree, and then plant it the week of winter break. This can be done successfully if the length of time the tree spends indoors is limited. In a warm room with heat vents or a fireplace, less than 7 days would be advisable. If your tree is going in a 3-seasons room or a cooler room with a humidifier, then 2 weeks may be possible. Any heat vents within 6’ feet of the tree should be closed. The best success comes from trees that are containerized since they are easier to water than burlapped trees. If a burlapped tree is used, the best way to water it will be with ice cubes so that the water can slowly percolate into the soil. The smaller the tree, the better the rate of success. If shopping for a containerized tree, a small 1 or 2-gallon potted spruce would serve as a perfect tabletop Christmas tree, then can be transferred outdoors in a container garden or in the ground. A larger container 5, 7, 10 or 15 gallon pot can also be used and sometimes looks best when placed on low table or pedestal to give it some extra height. Another strategy may be to leave the tree decorated with lights on the front porch and not bring it inside at all to avoid stress and increase transplant success.
Before bringing a tree indoors, be sure to water it thoroughly until water drips out the holes of the pot. If it is only going to be in the house for a week, it may not need any more water, until it is planted, but if indoors for over a week, it will most likely need an extra drink. Plan on taking it outside on December 26th. If the weather is trending towards freezing temperatures, it may make sense to pre-dig the hole on a nice day and even put the soil in a wheelbarrow and store in the garage to make it easier to work with at planting time. Remember to have a bag of mulch on-hand to use around the tree to help insulate the roots and regulate the moisture in the soil. Water thoroughly after planting and be sure to take pictures of the process.
Every gardener loves Hellebores and giving them as gifts during the holiday season is a popular tradition in Europe. Poinsettias still top the list of plants to give during the holiday season, but Hellebores top the chart when it comes to longevity and usefulness in the garden. This versatile plant can be enjoyed indoors or out, making it suitable for outdoor container gardeners (they look great paired with birch logs and other winter cuttings) or as a live element to a tablescape. When indoors, plan to water weekly. It’s okay to let them dry down between waterings, and that would be preferable to overwatering. These can be successfully left indoors for several weeks and then brought outdoors after the holidays. Try to avoid extreme temperature changes and protect them from freeze and frost the first week or so once outdoors. Pre-digging a hole and mulching after planting will increase the success rate of the plant.
Caring For Cut Greenery
Another way to enjoy the outdoors during the cold winter months is to take cuttings from outdoor garden plants and bring them inside in vases or baskets with floral foam. Keep them consistently moist and avoid placing them near sunny windows or heat vents. Beautiful arrangements can be made using nandina, pine, spruce, cypress, winterberry, red or yellowtwig dogwood, magnolia, dried hydrangea flowers, ornamental grasses and a wide array of other winter-interest plants. If you are unable to spritz them frequently with water, it may make sense to use an anti-dessicant product like Wilt Stop® to help lock in moisture. If in a vase, change the water frequently and re-cut the stems to help them absorb water better. Expect at least a week or so if using cuttings indoors, but when using outdoors in a cool, shaded area, these arrangements can last a couple of months if kept moist.
The holiday season has become quite plasticized and overloaded with glitz and glitter… Make this the year to bring life back into the holiday season with a little creativity and some help from Mother Nature.
Jennifer Schamber is the general manager of Greenscape Gardens in west St. Louis County, Missouri. She is a past president of the Landscape & Nursery Association of Greater St. Louis and past vice president of the Horticulture Co-op of Metro St. Louis. Greenscape Gardens is the national 2015 winner of Today’s Garden Center Magazine’s Revolutionary 100 Award.