Decorating for the holidays and winter shouldn't be restricted to just a tree, some lights, and a wreath. A part of your family's tradition could easily include adding a few seasonal favorites for scent, color, and charm during the darkest part of the year. When it's cold outside, you can enjoy the vibrant color of amaryllis, paper white narcissus, Christmas cactus, or the ever pleasing poinsettia.
You've probably seen amaryllis in pictures of home magazines, especially the holiday decorating issues. They are big, bold, and fit well in either a modern or traditional setting. A favorite for the Christmas season is bright red though they come in many shades of red, pink, whites, and picotee-edged varieties. They make beautiful gifts for gardeners and other horticulture aficionados.
A row of five pretty flower pots, each with its own bulb, can run you between $20–100 depending on where you score your bulbs. To ensure that they actually bloom when you want them to, you need to set them in the pots by the middle of October and cultivate them for about ten weeks. For about the same price, you can always buy the budding plants in December, ready to bloom and spare yourself the experience if you just want the results.
A bowl of paperwhite narcissus blooming on the kitchen counter or a table can chase away your winter funk PDQ. Though not quite as commanding as amaryllis, paperwhites are very pretty and especially suited to bright areas with good light. They are the easiest of the seasonal flowers to grow. It's almost as easy as plopping a half dozen bulbs into a pot with decent potting soil, adding a little water, and letting them soak up the sun in a south facing window. Four weeks later, you have flowers.
Christmas cactus is one of those plants that can be a bit trickier, but offers spectacular results. Most people purchase, or receive as gifts, Christmas cactus during the holiday season. Keep them on the cool side, out of drafts, water moderately, and make sure they get plenty of light during the day. Avoid moving them. They really like to stay put.
Once the flowers are gone, you can keep your cactus alive for years with a little insight into the life cycle of Christmas cactus.
One of the most evocative symbols of the American holiday season is the poinsettia. It's found everywhere and is appropriate for almost any setting. Like the rest of our seasonal plants, the poinsettia likes good light, light watering, and being out of drafts. Like the Christmas cactus, you can keep your poinsettia for growing later and forcing next year.