December 13, 2007
Think beyond ribbon
Decorate gifts, the home in living color


1. Use good pruning practices when selecting Christmas greenery from landscape plants. Don’t destroy the natural form and beauty of the plant.

2. Bring in late-blooming plants such as decorative kolanchoes or Christmas cactus so they may finish flowering in the warmth of the house.

3. Prolong the life of holiday-season gift plants by providing proper care. Check to see if the pot wrap has plugged up the bottom drainage. Don’t overwater. Keep out of drafts from heating vents and open doorways.

4. Continue to set out cool-season bedding plants, such as pansies, violas, stock, snapdragons, and dianthus.

5. Don’t forget tulip and hyacinth bulbs in the refrigerator. They can be planted any time in December if they have received 60 or more days of chilling.

6. Berrying plants, such as holly and yaupon, may be pruned now while they can be enjoyed as cut material inside the house.

7. Start cuttings of your favorite Christmas cactus. As soon as it has finished blooming, select a cutting with four or five joints, break or cut it off, and insert the basal end into a pot of moderately moist soil. Place it on a windowsill or other brightly lit area. The cuttings should be rooted within three to four weeks.

8. Don’t get in a hurry to prune woody plants. Late December through February is usually the best time to prune them.

9. November through February is a good time to plant trees and shrubs.

10. Take advantage of bad weather and holiday time to study seed and nursery catalogues as well as good gardening books. Place orders for seeds so you will have them available when you are ready to plant.

11. Prepare beds and individual holes for rose planting in January and February. Use composted manure, pine bark and similar materials mixed with existing soil
The Yuletide Camellia shrub is in full bloom with red petals and yellow stamen now at local garden centers. Put one in a container and strategically place it at your front door or on your patio or porch for holiday living color.
Think beyond ribbon
Decorate gifts, the home in living color


This time of year finds us making our lists and checking them twice to make sure we first decorate for the season and then spend the bulk of our time selecting and wrapping gifts for family and friends.
The red and white bicolor bromeliad is featured here with poinsettias in a basket presentation. Although poinsettias are considered a traditional holiday plant, this "strawberries and cream" variety provides a distinctive colorful flair.
Wouldn’t it be a great use of resources and time if materials used to decorate could also be used as gifts?

Well, they can be – and particularly if you think beyond the wrapped box adorned in colorful ribbon to items that are “gifts in living color.”

We often think of the traditional poinsettia, amaryllis, paper white, cyclamen or Christmas cactus to decorate or give as gifts, but there are other distinctive plants that can be used for both outdoor and indoor holiday décor and also serve as wonderful gifts in living color. There are some that can be placed in containers and strategically placed at front doors or in yards for the holidays and then later planted in your landscape.

Others can happily exist in either outdoor or indoor conditions with proper care. So let’s take a look at some gifts this season in spectacular living color.

Yuletide Camellia

The camellia sasanqua “Yuletide” is a lush, cool season evergreen shrub that, as its name implies, blooms during the Christmas season. It has bright red single flower petals and crisp yellow stamens that provide a great spectacle of color. It differs from the camellia japonica, which has blooms in layers of petals. It is an upright, densely foliaged plant that works well in containers or other formal settings.

The Yuletide camellia could beautifully adorn a front door entrance or steps, add color to a patio or porch, and then later be planted in the landscape in well-drained enriched soil and in partial shade. It is a perfect selection for outdoor decoration or as a container gift in living color that can be transplanted into your garden.

Victory Pyracantha

The Victory pyracantha (pyracantha koidzumii “Victory”) is an upright arching shrub with beautiful dark green, semi-glossy leaves and large clusters of gleaming red berries in the fall and winter months. It has masses of white blossoms that cover the plant in the spring.

It, too, could be used in a container to outline steps or an entrance, or add the rusty holiday red to an indoor setting for the holidays. The Victory pyracantha provides holiday color that pops out at you with its red berries.

As a newly planted container plant, it will require more frequent watering than as an established landscape plant. When planted outdoors in the landscape, it will make an excellent hedge, screen or barrier planting and reaches 10 feet tall by 8 feet wide.

Like the Yuletide camellia, it would make a showy decoration and a lasting gift in living color that produces white blooms in the spring and red berries during the fall and into the holidays.

Evergreen Topiaries

Ivy topiaries in cone or wreath shape are lovely additions to your indoor or outdoor décor, and are particularly nice as gifts. English ivy hedera “California” grows well on wire formed into various shapes and requires minimal watering.

If placed outside, it will sustain moderately cool weather this time of year but should be brought in with more severely cool temperatures. It prefers partial shade and intermittent misting in the warmer months. Direct sunlight can be damaging to the leaves.

Fig ivy (ficus pumila “Variegata”) is a smaller green and white leaf ivy that makes into a more petite topiary. It, too, is freeze-resistant with mild temperatures, but requires care in extreme conditions. It is a hardy plant that provides color and texture to a garden setting or inside your home. Use caution not to over- or under-water.

Rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis) in both the upright and prostrate creeping varieties also makes an interesting topiary that, when grouped with the ivies, can add texture and form to a garden setting. All of these green foliage structures can be placed with pockets of color like the cyclamen or Christmas cactus to provide holiday décor this time of year.

Bromeliad Guzmania

There are more than 150 species of the bromeliad guzmania. Nearly all have cup-like leaves enabling them to retain water at their bases. Their bloom spikes are their most desirable asset and hold their color long after flowering – sometimes for four to six months with proper care. These may be compact heads or elongated spikes resembling fountains. They are available in a variety of living colors, including reds and pinks, purple, oranges and golden yellow that beautifully complement their shiny green leaves. They also less frequently bloom in two colors.

Often given for an indoor gift, they are one of the more showy plants for any setting or season that provide a plethora of brilliant living color. Because of lower light requirements, guzmanias are an ideal indoor bromeliad. If placed outside, they must be protected from frost or freeze and also from direct sun and extreme summer heat.

When browsing a garden center for seasonal holiday plants, I came upon a fabulous red and white bicolor guzmania that I purchased for my own holiday décor. It is one of the more brilliant bromeliads I have ever encountered and, along with several sensational “strawberry and cream” poinsettias in a basket, made a spectacular out-of-the-ordinary holiday decoration – and gift – that should last well into the spring with proper care.

For those who prefer the more traditional holiday poinsettia, amaryllis and Christmas cactus – and want to learn how to prolong their beauty after the holidays – be sure to read the Jan. 3, 2008, Gardeners’ Dirt.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, Texas 77901; or, or comment on this column at