Q: Can you offer some suggestions for indoor plants for holiday gift-giving beyond the most common ones like poinsettia, Christmas cactus and amaryllis? — P.A.
A: Norfolk Island pines become a sought-after houseplant at this time of year for homeowners who may want a real tree but don’t want to deal with the needles that fall from a cut real tree. They are available in varying heights, and some retail sources even offer them decorated with glitter, mini-ornaments and bows.
Since Norfork Island pines are native to Norfolk Island, located east of Australia, trying to mimic the environmental conditions of that location will benefit its care. When grown indoors, place this pine in full to part sun, out of drafts and away from heat vents. Be sure the potting soil is well drained, and supply enough water to wet the soil but not allow the roots to sit in water-logged conditions. This plant has a tendency to drop its lower branches when moved, so make location changes gradually since the dropped lower branches will not grow back.
Frosty fern, Selaginella kraussiana, is not a fern but considered a clubmoss, which has silver-tipped textured foliage, giving it the perfect look for the holiday season. Grow in a location with bright indirect light with high humidity. Keep the soil consistently moist. Since it is difficult to maintain high humidity in our homes during the winter, it may be best to plant frosty fern in a terrarium-like environment after the holidays to provide it with its desired growing conditions.
Lemon cypress, Cupressus macrocarpa, has chartreuse evergreen foliage that does not provide the usual scent of a holiday evergreen but a lemon fragrance. For the holiday season, they are usually available pruned into a conical form to resemble a holiday tree or more formally pruned into a bonsai-type shape. Hardy to zone 7, lemon cypress makes a good houseplant during the cold months and can be placed outdoors during the summer. Grow in full sun, and water after the top few inches of soil dries out.
Rosemary topiaries are popular during the holiday season since they, too, get pruned into various holiday-inspired shapes, and can offer a convenient supply of rosemary for the cook on your gift list. Place in a sunny location and allow to dry out between waterings. Snip off foliage as it grows to keep the plant in its desired shape.
These green plants can be used in groupings to provide backdrops for other holiday blooming plants such as cyclamen, orchids and forced bulbs (like paperwhites) as well as in combination with traditional festive favorites.