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Christmas gift giving great with plants

December 13, 2013 - 2:14pm

Christmas shopping for family and friends was cut short this year by a late Thanksgiving. It’s only 10 shopping days away, so let’s get started with creative ideas.

The holidays are a great time to get into gardening projects. Plants make the perfect gifts for those hard-to-buy-for friends and relatives. Also, puttering in the garden will lower your blood pressure and give you gift ideas.

To avoid the headaches, enjoy your Christmas shopping by being different. Stop by a few of the local nurseries, garden and flower shops. You would be surprised at how many different plants make Christmas gifts. With a little love and attention, you can give a gift that really has some meaning. Foliage plants may be spruced up with a bright red ribbon, but some plants are more in keeping with the holidays than others. In giving living plants, use your imagination with the containers, decorations, and wrapping. You can put more love into this type of gift than most other types unless you consider handmade bedspreads, homemade cookies and such. Living plants are a natural since they may be enjoyed for years.

Ixora coccinea, or flame of the woods, is ideal for the holidays with its bright red flowers and dark green foliage. The small shrub has a close relative, Ixora macrothyrsa, or king ixora, that may be trained into a large shrub or small tree. The fragrant Ixora hookerei, or sweet ixora, may grow to about 15 feet and is ideal for the small garden. If you want to keep it small, plant it in a container for the patio.

A whole group of flowering shrubs available now are the tropical vireya rhododendrons. They can be grown from sea level to at least 4,000 feet and vary from small shrubs to small trees depending on species and variety. Vireyas are native to the western Pacific. A garden at the Panaewa Zoo displays many examples. For information about the Hawaii Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, visit hawaiivireyaars.org.

Let’s not forget orchids and bromeliads as Christmas gifts. They are readily available at most garden shops and are easy to grow. Area orchid clubs are happy to assist folks in the culture of these spectacular plants. You might even catch the “orchid bug” and join the Orchid Society.

For a frosty effect, give the silver buttonwood which will also form a shrub or small tree with blue-gray foliage. These trees will tolerate serious salt conditions and can grow where wind and salt spray are a problem. Another interesting foliage plant is the snow queen hibiscus with variegated white and green leaves and red flowers.

Many palms make great holiday gifts. The pygmy date palm would be appropriate as date palms are associated with Jesus’ birthplace. Palms with red and green foliage are appropriate, such as latania, sealing wax palm or chambeyronia. The latter has dark green leaves with bright red new leaves. Other palms include the Christmas berry palm, Veitchia merrilli, also called the Manila palm, with its red fruit, and Howea palms. Rhapis palms are hardy and will tolerate conditions in home and business settings. They make great gifts for your doctor, dentist or lawyer. I always ask myself “Do I trust a doctor who cannot keep an office or house plant alive?” Rhapis palms are great test plants.

In getting your gifts ready, start with the right container. Wooden tubs are excellent since wood prevents rapid drying out of the soil. Clay pots can be painted to blend with colors in the home. Brass and copper are ideal for table and mantel arrangements. But, as these containers are usually small, pay careful attention to supplies of water and fertilizer. Too much or too little fertilizer can be fatal to the plant. Containers must have proper drainage so plants don’t drown.

Soil is very important for house plants. Since they must survive on a very small amount, give them the best soil mixture available. A longtime favorite for many homeowners is a blend of one part peat, one part course garden soil and one part vermiculite or sponge rock. These may come premixed at the garden supply store.

When choosing plants, consider the person who is receiving the gift. Select varieties that will withstand adverse growing conditions for the beginning gardener. Growing conditions such as low light intensity, extremes of temperature, and dry air may be discouraging. To be satisfactory, plants must do more than merely survive. They must maintain an attractive appearance with a minimum of care. Air conditioning and gas appliances may be rough on houseplants.

For problem interiors, consider bromeliads, monstera, philodendrons and palms. Plants that grow in full sunlight include geraniums, petunias, crotons, ficus, succulents, cactus, and palms.

For detailed information on palms, check out the International Palm Society website. There is an active chapter on the Big Island. Many palm books are available at local garden centers and bookstores. These and general gardening books also make great Christmas gifts.