Leonard Perry, UVM Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant
Proper placement of bird feeders, buying holiday garden gifts, and caring for poinsettias and Christmas cactus are some of the gardening activities for this month.
To encourage birds to visit your garden this winter, set out
feeders near evergreen trees or shrubs so birds have cover while
they feed. If you have bird-chasing cats, or if raiding squirrels
are a problem, hang the feeders higher off the ground and away
from trees and structures. It’s best not to hang feeders in the
trees, as this can allow birds to become easy prey to cats and
other animals. If feeders are on poles, consider adding a cone or
“torpedo” baffle to keep squirrels and chipmunks from climbing
You can find amaryllis bulbs in “kits” with all the ingredients
needed for potting, or buy ones already potted. These you can
keep for many years and get to rebloom each winter. You also may
see “waxed” amaryllis bulbs, covered with a red, gold or silver
wax coating. These don’t need potting, just set bulbs on a stand
and watch them grow and bloom in four to six weeks. They are a
good example of bulbs having the nutrients and moisture already
inside to grow and bloom. Due to this coating, and the fact
plants form no roots, they provide a one-time show and can’t be
saved or potted for future blooms.
When shopping for poinsettias, look for ones with leaves to the bottom of the plants that are a healthy green. For longest life, choose a plant with the flowers not yet open--these are the rather inconspicuous yellow lumps at the center of the brightly colored bracts (actually these colored parts are modified leaves). Visit a greenhouse to be awed by masses in bloom, and to find some of the latest varieties such as with marbled or spotted bracts, or new colors such as orange, or even those painted colors such as blue and with glitter. Make sure to keep the plant covered and out of cold on the way home, and away from drafts once home, as poinsettias are quite sensitive to cold.
The Christmas cactus is another popular holiday plant that you
will find in greenhouses and many stores this time of year. It is
very similar to the Thanksgiving and Easter cacti, with flattened
green leaf segments rather than thorns as you usually think of
with cactus. In fact these originally come from the shady and
humid coastal mountains of southeastern Brazil, not from the
desert. Flowers come in many colors—white, pink, red, orange and
purple—and have an unusual shape. Flowers are rather tubular and
elongated, and look like a flower within a flower.
The Christmas cactus responds well to the shorter days of fall,
and cool temperatures. It usually will bloom year after year if
kept at 50 degrees for several weeks each fall. Starting about
mid-September, gradually reduce watering until buds set. Then keep
soil constantly moist (but not waterlogged). If in doubt, don’t
water. They can tolerate being too dry much better than being too
wet. Buy one with many buds not yet opened for the longest bloom
Return to Perry's Perennial Pages: Green Mountain Gardener Articles-- your reliable source of gardening information for over 50 years.