For our ancestors, it was absolutely second nature to ‘Deck the halls with boughs of holly’, but these days, more often than not, we now use Christmas decorations in our homes that may well be beautiful, but are also crafted by the human hand. Why not bring the outdoors in this year and brighten up your home with some lush wonders from the natural world? Houseplants at Christmas time can be a wonderful feast for the senses, and bring a magical sparkle of joy to bookshelves, mantelpieces and festive tables.
The benefits of houseplants in the chillier months
Houseplants are a great addition to any home through every month of the calendar, but getting decorative and inventive with greenery during the winter period has a number of benefits to our health. Ideally, all winter we’d enjoy bright sunny days, the ground covered with a crisp smattering of snow for stamping through, we’d wrap up warm and go hiking in the hills, we’d get those last few bits of Christmas shopping in a beautiful evening dusk, brightly lit with warm fairy lights.
In reality, we often experience gloomy grey days brim-full of rain and fog. As the days become shorter as we move towards the winter solstice on 21st December, the winter season can sadly have detrimental effects on our health. Why is this? One reason is that during the warmer months, we often throw our windows open wide to let the sun and air in, allowing a cool breeze to circulate, letting fresh air in. When our homes are colder however, it’s fairly common for us to forget how important fresh air in the home is. Windows remain closed, the heating on, and the air becomes stale and heavy, due to objects and processes which emit volatile organic compounds that would normally be more easily removed in the summer days when the air is less stagnant. Plant absorb these VOCs and cleanse the air. They are also grounding and therapeutic to nurture and grow, bringing calm and joy into our lives.
Beat the winter blues with some festive reds and greens (and pinks, oranges and purples!) Here are some plants that will thrive happily in your home during the winter months, or will make wonderful gifts for your loved ones.
Coral berry/Christmas berry (Ardisia crenata)
This sweet little bush is ideal for adorning a winter windowsill, as it loves bright (but not direct) sunlight. It’s also great as a table centrepiece. It will certainly get you and your guests into the Christmas spirit with its beautiful burst of bright berries, which begin a warm yellow but then turn red, hanging in luxurious, prolific clusters. The lush, dark, glossy leaves offset the bright red colour beautifully. Water when the soil begins losing its moisture to the touch – it also likes to have its leaves misted.
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera)
I have three Christmas cacti in my house – some refer to them as Easter cacti or Thanksgiving cacti too. So called because of the time of year at which they bloom, their unusually shaped (somewhat tubular), stunningly coloured flowers make a wonderful addition to any home at Christmas time. The flowers, which may be pink, orange, white, yellow or red, appear at the end of the dark green hanging branches, which can reach up to 3 feet long. It’s important to note that the Christmas cactus does have different care requirements than a regular cactus or succulent, because of its native humid habitat – it’s not used to dry, arid environments and needs more water than you might expect of a succulent.
Being native to Brazil, it favours humid conditions, and likes to be misted frequently when in bloom. The soil should be kept reasonably moist during the growing season of spring and summer, and moister than other succulents during the winter months of flowering too. The plant needs daytime and night-time hours to bloom, so make sure it receives time in both light and dark! When the plant is in flower, be consistent with watering otherwise it may drop its lovely colourful buds. Christmas cacti are also very easy to propagate – gently twist off the Y-shaped top end of some leaves, plant it in a small pot, and you have the perfect seasonal gift.
Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
A fabulous centrepiece for any holiday table with its bright red and green colouring, the poinsettia is traditionally associated with Christmas. Why though?! We’ve all seen it on café tables at the beginning of November, it’s prolific in nurseries and supermarkets in late autumn early winter, but what’s the link? It’s also known as the Christmas Star (due to the shape of its pretty leaves) and also ‘Flores de Noche Buena’ meaning, in Spanish, Flowers of the Holy Night. There’s a biblical story about a little Mexican girl who presented a bouquet of weeds baby Jesus; when they were presented at his crib, they were transformed into the poinsettia. This was considered a Christmas miracle. Poinsettias are indeed native to Mexico, and don’t do hugely well in the harsher colder temperatures of Europe. You’ll have to take good care of them and ensure you find the place in your home where they’ll be happiest. This generally means in indirect sunlight, and pretty mild temperatures – maybe even crank up the heating a notch or two… Keep it away from radiators, draughts, and cold windows. Avoid moving it from to room – let it settle. The soil needs to be damp, not sodden: a good guide is to test it with your fingertips. There are three effective ways to water your poinsettia:
- A little bit every day, not more than 2-3 tablespoons
- Soak the bottom of the planter in the sink once a week for 10 minutes
- Add ice cubes to the soil! Once cube per day to keep up moisture levels
Inchplant/Wandering Dude/Spiderwort (Tradescantia zebrina/fluminensis/pallida)
The leaves on this plant sport delightful colours: purple, silver, dark green, and sometimes a little white depending on variety. So whatever your décor theme this Christmas, it’s likely you’ll find an inchplant that might fit. They have beautiful trailing vines that grow easily – I have mine in a hanging basket in a south-facing window and it does well. When watering, make sure the soil is wet through, then leave for a while until it dries up on top. This makes it a great easy-care plant.
The only somewhat negative point I’ve experienced with mine is that it can occasionally grow too heavy for itself… the dangling leaves at the bottom of the plant can weigh down the leaves at the top, leaving it looking slightly thin. What I tend to do for this is just cut it all back and start the process again, which is lovely actually as you just get to go through that wonderful growing and nurturing process once more. Plus, at this time of year, you could use the cut back leaves as part of a wreath, a table decoration, and give cuttings to loved ones. Win win!
Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
Holly – we are all familiar with this glossy, prickly, festive shrub or tree. Cut holly sprigs and branches have long had their place in halls and houses during the festive season; woven into wreaths, sitting on mantelpieces, and twined around bannisters, the bright red berries and small white blooms strike a piercing contrast against the dark green prickly foliage. Outside, it’s a safe haven for birds, hedgehogs and other creatures, providing a home during the winter months. It can, however, also be grown indoors as a houseplant, and looks beautiful in a pot as well as a branch cut from outdoors. It can be tricky to grow holly indoors from a seed, so really the best way forward is to purchase a shrub from a nursery and care for it with moist but well-draining soil and a place in the sunlight to grow well and produce berries.
Winter Cherry (Solanum Capsicastrum)
The winter cherry, also known as the Jerusalem cherry, is another houseplant that’s popular for Christmas – its bright red berries bring winter cheer to any home, and it has the added bonus that it blooms stunning little white star-shaped flowers during the summer. The berries they produce close to the Christmas season look similar to tomatoes, and become redder and redder the more they are exposed to the sunlight. They flourish in cool, but not draughty spaces. Pop it near the window in the bright sunlight and water when the top layer of soil becomes dry to touch.
The Christmas tree! (Nordmann fir – Abies Nordmanniana), (Norway spruce – Picea Abies)
I couldn’t write about houseplants at Christmas and not include the mighty Christmas tree. The stuff of childhood memories; warm fuzzy Christmas eve feelings, presents, stockings, Father Christmas, and that wonderful SMELL every time you walk into the house…. A lot of people choose an artificial tree, but I’m all for a real one, and if you get one, you can simply treat it nicely, as you do a houseplant, and the needle drop will be minimal. If you buy a cut tree, pop it into its tree stand and do the same to the stand as you would to a pot containing a plant: put water in it! This will ensure the needles keep their lush dark green colour for a lot longer. It’s better still to buy a potted tree with roots – that way, you can plant it out in the garden when you’re done with it for the season and bring it back in the following year. Even if you have a small yard or balcony, it’s still possible to care for your conifer outside then rehang it with baubles, lights and tinsel next year. The perfect sustainable solution!
Ring the changes for New Year
Now you’ve got all this luscious greenery around your home space, love it through every season and enjoy the peace, calm, and clean air it brings you all year round. Good luck and merry Christmas!