Living plants make great Christmas gifts


Now that your Thanksgiving dinner has digested, it’s time to think about Christmas shopping. Christmas is only one month from today, 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 help 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 great 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 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.

First and foremost, flowers are a natural. Poinsettias are traditional, but how about the hibiscus with its red flowers and green foliage, the gardenia with white flowers and green leaves. Another gift that is a natural is the ever-blooming Jatropha tree: an ornamental addition to any home landscape. It’s ideal for a holiday gift with its bright red flowers and dark green foliage. The tree will grow to about 15 feet with spreading branches and is ideal for the small garden. If you want to keep it small, you must 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 varieties. Vireyas are native to the western Pacific, Taiwan, the Malay archipelago, New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philippines and northern Australia. There is a vireya display garden at the Panaewa Zoo if you want to see some examples. We have a Hawaii Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, 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. Our local orchid clubs are happy to assist folks in the culture of these spectacular plants. You might even get the “orchid bug” and join the Orchid Society.

For a frosty effect, give the silver buttonwood, which will 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 its variegated white and green leaves and red flowers.

Many palms make great holiday gifts. The pygmy date palm would be very appropriate since date palms are associated with Jesus’ birthplace. Palms with red and green foliage are appropriate, like the latania, sealing wax palm or Chambeyronia from New Caledonia. 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.

Don’t forget the popular Norfolk Island pine as a living gift. You can decorate it, flock it or leave it natural. Several flocking materials are on the market that will not harm living trees.

This pine is not from Virginia, but native to Norfolk Island in the South Pacific. The Norfolk pine is gaining tremendous popularity in Hawaii and the mainland as a cut tree because it stays fresh and green much longer than the traditional fir, spruce and pine. In Hawaii some folks just don’t have the heart to cut the trees, so they are available as living Christmas trees grown in containers. The trees then can be used as a container specimen or planted outdoors. When planted in the garden, remember they can get as tall as 100 feet, so don’t plant them under utility lines or too close to the house. In decorating the Norfolk Pine, it is important to keep adornment simple, since the tree itself is so ornamental.

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 are fine and can be painted to blend with the colors in the home. Brass and copper are ideal for table and mantel arrangements. But because 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.

Soil is very important for houseplants. Since they must survive on a very small amount, give them the best soil mixture available. There is no perfect mixture. However, a longtime favorite for many homeowners is a blend of one part peat, one part coarse garden soil and one part vermiculite or sponge rock. These may come already mixed for you 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 like 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 minimal care. Air conditioning and gas appliances, as nice to have as they are, may be rough on houseplants.

For problem interiors, consider tough plants such as bromeliads, monstera, philodendrons and palms like rhapis and howea. These plants don’t seem to mind low light.

Plants that will grow in full sunlight include geraniums, petunias, crotons, ficus, succulents, cactus, and many palms. For detailed information on palms, check out the International Palm Society website. We have an active chapter here 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.