In the run-up to Christmas, it seems even people who would never normally be tempted by indoor greenery get temporarily bitten by the houseplant bug. Lush poinsettias, powerfully fragrant hyacinths and tiny flocked conifers put on a dazzling indoor show for a few short weeks, before almost certainly being consigned to the bin along with the tinsel come January.
If you’re not a horticulturist, you might think the lack of a green thumb is at fault, but I promise you that this is almost certainly not the case. Most seasonal houseplants are either cold-climate species entirely unsuited to the extreme warmth and dark of living room conditions – or they’ve been forced by a cocktail of growth regulators to flower at an unnaturally small size and they soon exhaust themselves. There is a reason you never see a poinsettia in anyone’s house in August. But things really don’t have to be this way. Here are three living Christmas decorations that, with minimal care, will last you for many new years to come.
Christmas cactus Hailing from the forests of Latin America, these cacti have ditched their desert habitat for a life clinging to the branches of jungle trees. The soft, spine-free stems have crimped edges that make them look like holly, all crowned in the winter months with a dramatic display of exotic flowers in shades including the brightest crimson and snowiest white. The plants are easy to grow in pots or hanging baskets in any bright spot away from direct sunlight. After flowering, they need a resting period, so reduce watering and pop them in a cooler room. Give them a summer holiday outside in a shady spot with regular watering and feeding, then bring indoors and reduce watering when the first frost is forecast to help trigger flower formation.
Mistletoe cactus Sticking with the theme of hanging decorations, the mistletoe cactus provides an evergreen cascade of jade green stems decorated by small, white, translucent berries. Unlike regular mistletoe, these berries aren’t toxic, which is a welcome bonus at a time of year with so much food around, combined with kids and pets packed in at close proximity. Treat this cacuts just like the related Christmas cactus, but ignore the need for a resting period.
Ivy This favourite is one of those ultra-accommodating plants that will grow as well indoors as out. It will take a punishing amount of drought and (if you go for a non-variegated one) low light levels, so it is perhaps the most dependable of all living Christmas decorations. It’s so tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions that as a kid I grew one from a cutting taken from my grandmother’s garden in Wales outdoors in tropical Singapore. I can’t think of much else that would survive that treatment. Give it a bright spot and keep an eye on the watering, and it will take care of itself.
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