Christmas Trees, Plants, and Decor
Christmas is one of our favorite and busiest times at Kennedy’s Country Gardens. We specialize in fresh, local greens and fresh custom design. We carry up to ten different varieties of cut trees, most of which are also sourced locally. And our seasonal houseplants are always top quality
Starting in early November, our creative team sets up shop in our largest greenhouse to begin creating custom designed wreaths, pot fillers, custom containers, wall and floor baskets, swags, and roping. Our sources provide us with the freshest local and native greens, twigs, and berries available. Additional sources supply more exotic items to round out our selection. People love juniper and winterberry for the lovely berries they provide. Curly willow branches provide an interesting focal point for containers, as do red- and yellow-twig dogwood. Birch poles in different diameters and lengths add a stunning, architectural look to containers.
The seaside theme is huge on the South Shore. For themed wreaths, it is our top seller. Another favorite style is fruit, perhaps because it transitions from Thanksgiving to Christmas so well. Our natural-style items are decorated with berries, pods, and cones. And traditionalists love our classic red and green designs.
Forcing Bulbs for Winter Holidays
The beautiful white blooms and rich fragrance of Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus and Narcissus tazetta), along with the fact that they are so easy to grow, make them a favorite for winter forcing. Paperwhites typically bloom three to six weeks after planting in soil, potting up in gravel, or placing in a bulb vase with water. Warmer temperatures in your house will cause them to sprout, grow, and flower sooner; cooler temperatures will slow down the process. Factor in how warm or cool you keep your home, and count back from your preferred bloom time to determine when to start planting.
Plant in late October and you might have some in bloom in time for Thanksgiving. Plant in November or early December and there’s a good chance you’ll have blooms for Christmas. Plant in intervals to increase your chances of having blossoms exactly when you want them and for a continuous display throughout the winter. Consider labelling each planting with the date and recording your results for next year. And, remember that forced bulbs make great gifts, so plant up some extras; it’s a great way to upcycle leftover vases and containers that have accumulated in your basement or closet!
For the holidays, forcing bulbs in stones, marbles, or beach glass is very popular. For soilless forcing, you will want a vase or container that is at least four inches tall. Place a minimum of an inch of stones, marbles, or sea glass in the bottom of the container. Place a single or multiple paperwhite bulbs on the stones, with the roots facing down. If planting multiple bulbs, the bulbs can be placed very close to each other, almost touching. Fill in the gaps between bulbs and around the edge of the container with a shallow layer of stones to hold the bulbs upright. Leave at least the top third of the bulbs exposed. Add water until the level reaches just below the base of the bulbs, but no higher. Do not let the bulbs themselves sit in the water, or they will rot.
Set your container or vase in a cool spot away from direct sunlight for the first two to three weeks (55-60°F is ideal). Cool temperatures help to stimulate root growth. Check the bulbs frequently and add water to keep the water level just below the base of the bulbs. If your bulbs are in a container that you can’t see through, water with care to prevent the bulbs from sitting in water.
When the bulbs have produced roots and the stalks begin to grow, you can move your container to a sunny window. Rotate the container daily to encourage straight stalks. Keep a close eye on watering. Bulbs in active growth can dry out in just a day or two. Once your paperwhites are in bloom, extend the life of the flowers and your enjoyment of them by moving them out of direct sun and/or moving them into a cooler room at night.
Forced paperwhites planted in stones have a tendency to topple over when they flower. Studies show that adding alcohol (any hard liquor or rubbing alcohol will work!) will stunt the growth of the stalk and leaves, making the plants less likely to become top heavy. There are lots of articles online about how much alcohol to use, but you want to keep the alcohol level at around 6% by volume, so don’t overdo it! Even if you stunt the growth of your plants, they may need some support. You can use bamboo sticks, or you might want to upgrade to birch, redtwig dogwood, or curly willow twigs for a more festive look. And, instead of plain twine, use a fancy ribbon for added seasonal appeal. You can also try planting in the bottom of a tall cylindrical vase. The walls of the vase should help hold the flowers up when the blossoms open.
An answer to a frequently asked question…. Easy to grow, but also delicate, planting paperwhite bulbs is usually a one-time shot. These plants are considered tropical, growing best in warm climates and treated as annuals in colder locations. Once forced, the foliage will yellow and it is time to toss the plant, as planting paperwhites outdoors after forcing is rarely successful. If you have used pebbles, marbles, or a similar medium, wash them and your containers thoroughly before storing for future use.
Amaryllis plants produce spectacular, regal looking flowers that are perfect for Christmas and New Year’s. Huge blossoms in reds, pinks, whites, and pale greens atop long stalks make for a dramatic plant. Amaryllis bulbs bloom seven to ten weeks after planting. Plant soon for full bloom right at Christmastime. Wait a little while if you want to give as a gift at Christmas with the intent of letting it bloom after the holiday. And don’t forget, amaryllis make great gifts for New Year’s and Valentine’s Day, too!
Amaryllis bulbs can be grown in water, but many people prefer to plant them in soil. You will want to choose good quality potting soil, high in organic matter. Select a container that is deep enough to allow adequate room for good root development and has provisions for drainage. Amaryllis bulbs prefer a small container, so the diameter of the pot should be only about one inch larger than that of the bulb. Make sure that your container is heavy enough to support the weight of the plant – its height and the size of its flowers give it a tendency to be top heavy.
Just prior to planting, soak the base and roots of the bulb in lukewarm water for an hour or two. Plant the bulb, pointed end up, leaving approximately one-third of the bulb above the soil line, and packing the potting soil gently around the bulb to keep it securely in place, being careful not to damage the roots.
Water thoroughly and place the pot in a warm, sunny spot. Continue to water sparingly until you have an inch or two of growth, then gradually water more as the stem lengthens and the stalk and leaves appear. Once the plant starts to grow, feed regularly with a fertilizer that has a high phosphorus content. The stalk will grow rapidly and flowers will develop after it has reached full growth. As the plant grows, turn the pot regularly to encourage the stalk to grow straight. Once blooming, to prolong the flowers, move the pot out of direct sunlight.
Unlike paperwhites, which will typically not flower again, amaryllis plants will bloom year after year with the correct care. Click here to see more information on post-blooming care.
A final word….
Don’t worry if you miss the opportunity to plant up your bulbs in time for them to bloom for Christmas. We’ll have plenty of potted paperwhites and amaryllis available for sale for the holidays. Plant some bulbs up anyway – you’ll be glad to have the color and fragrance in January and February!
Caring for Your Christmas Cactus After Christmas
Christmas Cactus is a hardy plant that will live for years or even decades if cared for properly. If you have the time, the inclination, and a dedicated space with its own thermostat and light source you can manage your plant down the specific degree and minute. There are lots of web sites that provide excruciating detail! I’m going to provide a quick set of instructions that work well for me without having to devote my life to the care of my Christmas cacti.
First of all, many plants sold today as Christmas cacti are actually Thanksgiving cacti, or a hybrid. So, it can be hard to tell exactly when your plant is going to bloom.
The earlier-blooming Thanksgiving cactus or Schlumbergera truncata has stem segments with pointed teeth and flowers that are held more or less horizontally. The flowers of Thanksgiving cacti have yellow pollen.
The later-blooming, old-fashioned Christmas cactus or Schlumbergera buckleyi has stem segments with rounded teeth and flowers that hang down. The flowers of Christmas cacti have pink pollen.
Again, lots more information online! Care for both species is similar, so, for the purposes of this article, I am going to refer to these plants as Christmas cacti, even though all of mine are probably S. truncata. As long as I have a healthy plant that blooms in late fall and/or early winter, I’m happy!
Christmas cacti like bright light but not direct sun, which will burn the leaves. Keep your plant in front of a window that has sheer curtain or on a table away from the window so that it doesn’t sit directly in harsh sunlight. Christmas cacti love being outside in the summer. I place mine in light shade and leave them outside until October, bringing them inside when temperatures start to drop into the 40s. The combination of light and temperature that my plants are exposed to outside in the early fall seems to do the trick in getting them to set buds. Once I bring them inside, I keep them in a relatively cool room, away from direct sun and heat sources, and make sure that the lights are turned off at night. But I don’t go to great lengths to treat them to the specific temperatures or hours of darkness that many websites advocate!
A Christmas cactus is a tropical cactus, not a desert cactus. Unlike most desert cacti, Christmas cacti cannot tolerate completely dry soil. That being said, there are times when they need less water. Your Christmas cactus wants a rest period after it blooms, which means that you can stop watering it for a month after it finishes blooming, which would typically be the month of January. Come February, start watering once a week, but don’t soak the plant or you will shock the roots. Starting in March and through the spring and summer, water your plant regularly and thoroughly, but don’t let it sit in water. How often you water during the growing season depends on the climate. If you bring your plant outside, you might need to water it every couple of days if it is hot and dry. If you keep your plant inside, you might be watering it only once a week. In October, you can cut back on watering again to encourage the plant to set buds, and then water regularly in November and December once the buds have developed and while the plant is in bloom. Christmas cacti also like high humidity, so consider setting your pots on pebbles in a tray with water.
Fertilize every other week in spring and summer with a diluted houseplant fertilizer and stop fertilizing in October.
January, or any time just after your plant has bloomed, is a great time to prune your Christmas cactus. If you are pruning your plant to reduce its size, you can remove up to one-third of the plant per year. If you are trimming your plant to make it grow in more fully, you only need to trim the end one or two segments of the stems. It is very easy to root Christmas cactus cuttings. Start a new plant now, and it will make a great Christmas gift next year! Take a cutting with two or three branches. Let the cutting dry so that it doesn’t rot when you pot it up. Some people recommend that you let it dry for no more than two or three hours. Others say that you should let it dry for one to seven days. Refer to your favorite houseplant website, or experiment and report back to us! Put one or more cuttings into a pot filled with damp potting soil formulated for cacti and succulents. Insert the cuttings just deep enough so that they will stand upright. It will take a few weeks for your cuttings to develop roots, so you can wait until February, when you start watering its parent plant again, to water the cuttings.
Christmas cacti flower best when they are slightly pot-bound, so you only have to repot every three years or so. The best time for repotting is between February and April.
Remember, you will hear different advice from everyone you ask and every website you consult. These are hardy plants that will probably reward you with at least a few spectacular blooms just as winter arrives, even if you don’t follow the directions to the letter. Experiment and enjoy!
Caring for Your Amaryllis after Christmas
Was your home brightened by a beautiful blooming amaryllis this holiday season? Are you wondering what to do now that it is done blooming? The secret to maintaining your amaryllis plant so that it will survive and bloom again next Christmas is to keep it growing after it has finished blooming. You need to allow the plant to produce extra energy that will be stored in the bulb and released as a flower next year. You can treat your past-bloom amaryllis as a houseplant for the rest of the winter, move it outside in the spring, and then bring it back inside in the fall. Amaryllis do not require a resting period and will re-bloom if kept alive year-round as a plant. Some people prefer to add in a dormancy period, as that allows them to manage when the plant blooms.
If you plan to keep the plant alive and growing year-round, follow these instructions:
- After Christmas, as the flowers fade, cut them off to prevent seed formation.
- Do not remove the flower stalk until it has turned yellow because it will help manufacture food that will be stored in the bulb.
- Your amaryllis needs plenty of bright sunlight after it has finished blooming so place it in the brightest possible location indoors.
- Water the plant from the top of the container thoroughly whenever the top 2 inches of the soil is dry to the touch.
- Empty any excess water that drains from the pot as wet soil will promote root and bulb rot.
- When all of the flowers have bloomed, faded, and been removed, and once the flower stalk itself has yellowed, you can remove it, cutting it from the plant at its base about one inch above the bulb.
- Continue to water the plant regularly. Use a diluted fertilizer every other week.
- When all danger of frost is past, acclimate the plant to the outdoors by first placing it outside in shade or indirect light.
- Gradually move it to a bright spot in your garden where it will receive full sun for at least six hours each day.
- Sink the pot into the soil and fertilize with a balanced houseplant fertilizer monthly to build up nutrients for flower production the next year.
- In the fall before the first frost, dig up your amaryllis plant and bring it indoors.
- Continue to care for it as a houseplant, watering and fertilizing regularly. Rotate your plant frequently to encourage the flower stalk to grow straight.
- Your plant will bloom again as long as it received enough water, sunlight, and nutrients over the course of the year.
- If you are successful and your plant produces a new flower stalk, it will usually need support, even if you turn the plant regularly during the growing period. Get creative and use red twig dogwood, curly willow, or a wooden plant stake with a starfish glued to the top. Tie with festive ribbon.
- If the bulb does not produce a flowering stalk, it has not stored enough nutrients during the post-blooming period. You can still try again for next year, making sure that it gets enough sunlight, water, and fertilizer.
- Amaryllis plants bloom best when they are pot-bound so they will require re-potting only every three or four years.
Another option is to allow the bulb to go dormant at the end of the summer which gives it a rest and allows you to control the bloom time. If you decide to try this, dig up the pot and bring the plant inside at the end of August.
- Put the pot in a dark place like a basement or a cool closet and do not water.
- Wait until the foliage has become dry and shriveled and then cut it off just above the bulb.
- Inspect the bulb periodically. If new growth appears, re-pot it, water it, and place it in a sunny location.
- Otherwise, let the bulb rest for the months of September and October.
- Repot the bulb in fresh potting soil in early November for flowers at Christmastime.
- Leave your bulb in its dormant state for longer if you want it to bloom for Valentine’s Day.
- When re-potting, select a container that is deep enough to allow adequate room for good root development and has provisions for drainage. Amaryllis bulbs prefer a small container, so the diameter of the pot should be only about one inch larger than that of the bulb.
- Select a potting medium that has a high organic matter, but drains well.
- Position the bulb so that at least one-third, preferably one-half, of the bulb is above the surface of the potting medium. Firm the potting medium around the bulb, water it thoroughly and place the container in a warm, sunny spot.
- Water sparingly until new growth is about two inches tall, and then water whenever the top two inches of potting soil becomes dry.
- Do not fertilize the bulb until it begins to grow. After growth appears, fertilize the plants regularly with a fertilizer that has a high phosphorus content.
- Turn the pot regularly to encourage the flower stalk to grow straight.
- To prolong the blooms, move the plant out of direct sunlight when the flower buds have begun to show color.