Hyacinth Delft Blue

Christmas plants – some questions and answers

At Plews we get asked gardening questions all year round.  Marie expects gardening lessons to be question-heavy, of course! But during late November and December there is a change in the content of general queries towards Christmas plants.

For example, which Christmas tree is best, how to care for a Christmas tree, or whether you can buy purple poinsettias. (To which the answer is ‘yes’. However, some of them are dyed rather than naturally purple, so check the new growth before you buy!)

So we thought we’d put some of the more frequent questions in a blog to be helpful to all of you.


Is it too late to force Hyacinth to flower at Christmas?

Yes and no. It’s certainly too late to plant hyacinth bulbs and have them flowering for Christmas. In order to do that you would have needed to start in September.

However, if you’re asking about flowers that are already in bud, that’s different. You should be able to encourage them to open in the next week or ten days.

If you’re buying them, firstly check that they are specially prepared bulbs. Then compare the relative growth of bud and foliage. If there’s too much foliage, you may not get the flower bud to open for Christmas – although it should do so by New Year.

The trick then is to bring the hyacinth into the warm, introduce light and make sure it’s kept humid by standing the pot on a saucer of damp gravel.

Hyacinths are lovely scented Christmas plants, and although the bulbs are toxic this isn’t likely to be a problem when they’re in pots indoors.


My Poinsettias always die by Boxing Day

Poinsettias are one of the favourite Christmas plants, but avoid over watering by giving it little and often into the saucer. They’re a native of Mexico so appreciate light and warmth, preferably keeping the temperature no less than 13 degrees C. Keep them out of cold draughts, so if they’re on a windowsill keep them on the room side of the curtains.

There may be some yellowing of foliage or even leaf drop. Light levels in the Northern hemisphere are lower than the poinsettia is used to. The ‘flowers’ are actually bracts, a modified leaf set just below the flower. The poinsettia flower itself is insignificant; but those showy bracts in red, orange and yellow add a bright splash of colour among the Christmas evergreens.

They may even last till next year. In February, when you’re tired of looking at your poinsettia; cut the stems back to about 4” and place in a cool shady spot, keep the compost almost dry. In early May, water and re-pot the plant. Shoots will appear and you should prune these to leave just 4-5. If your skin is sensitive, you may need to wear gloves as the sap can be an irritant.

In September, cover the plant with a black polythene bag so it gets fourteen hours of total darkness overnight. After eight weeks treat as normal and your poinsettia should be ready to flower at Christmas.

Did you know there’s a National Poinsettia Day?


Holly 'ferox'


How do I get Holly with berries?

If you would like to grow your own berried holly for Christmas or Yule decorations, then you’ll need both male and female plants as only the female bears the berries. Although neighbouring gardens may have a male to pollinate your female holly, it is safer to grow both. Then you can be sure of berries for decoration. The general ratio in a garden situation is one male to three female plants.

How do you tell which is male and which female? When you go to buy them, make sure you ask, a good nursery will have trained staff. If you’re looking for yourself, then buying when the plants are in blossom is the safest test. The female Holly will have blossom, as the pollinated blossom develops into berries.

If you can’t find any berried holly, you could always cheat and make your own from dried peas and red wax.

As for which Holly variety to choose as one of your Christmas plants, you should be able to find one to suit most garden situations and schemes. The common or European holly (Ilex aquifolium) can be kept trimmed to a reasonably sized bushy tree.  But there are other varieties that might better meet your need for interest in the winter garden.

Ilex aquifolium ‘ferox argentea’ or silver hedgehog holly has green and silver serrated leaves with a prickly spine; and purple tinged stems. It will make about 20 -25 foot tall tree over 50 years and looks stunning when mature. In smaller gardens, remember to prune – if only to take advantage of the richer colour of those young purple stems!


Is mistletoe poisonous to pets?

American mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum) is less poisonous than European mistletoe (Viscum album). The chemical makeup is slightly different so the effects of eating the leaves and berries differ.

The simple answer is don’t eat the mistletoe and prevent your pets from eating it. A single berry may only result in drooling and stomach upset but large amounts require urgent medical attention.

However, like many toxic plants, mistletoe is also useful for ‘good’ medicine. While poisonous to humans, dogs, cats and horses, the berries are a good source of protein for many birds. Which is a neat trick as the seeds within the fleshy berry are then dispersed, as the birds don’t eat that bit.


And for those of you who like Christmas – why not download our eBook “Christmas and Yule in Your Garden“? Based on the seasonal blogs it has additional content and photos.


Mistletoe - Silver Birch


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