Keeping the holiday cheer alive and healthy


“Call a truce ... We are richer by one’s celebration of


-- With apologies to Rudyard Kipling


“An inadvertent holiday slight is even less important than whether

it is raining in Mexico.”

-- With apologies to Iris Murdoch

The continuation of the holiday season culminates with the twin


dilemmas of last-minute Christmas shopping and dealing with holiday


How many of you bought or received holiday gift plants? How many

of you have already killed your holiday plants? Stay tuned, dear

reader, because we’re going to explore the pleasures of caring for

holiday plants.

The splendid and ubiquitous poinsettia has become as popular here

as in Mexico. The Noche Buena holds emotional and religious


significance for our southern neighbors (some Mexicans are still

irritated that former Ambassador to Mexico Joel Roberts Poinsett

decided to name the plant after himself). I wouldn’t doubt that the

good ambassador gave considerable thought to this “point,” while

remembering the Alamo.

Your poinsettia will eventually occupy too much space to be a

permanent indoor plant. However, if you follow my care instructions

below, they should retain their red, pink or yellow color indoors


well into tax time. Once outdoors, grow them in a sunny garden locale

with lots of space.

The azalea is a popular year-round gift plant and is also a

valuable addition to the garden. Available in white, pink, red,

salmon, purple and in combination colors, these profuse bloomers are

hybridized as either shade or sun varieties. It’s a must to grow

azaleas in an acid soil that retains moisture and drains quickly.

Your local nurseries can provide you with an azalea/camellia planting

mix; nine parts to one part garden soil for an optimal planting


Christmas cactus (Zygocactus truncatus) is a lovely hanging plant

from Brazil. Not a true cactus, this one needs more water and is a

favorite houseplant. The pink, red or white flowers are very showy,

and its blooming schedule will let you know next year that Christmas

is approaching.

Care of Christmas gift plants is easy; just follow a few simple

steps. Place the plant in a well-lighted window and free from sudden

temperature changes. Keep the soil moist, but don’t let water stand

in the plant’s saucer or foil. Gradual leaf drop is an indication of

not enough light; crinkling, yellowing leaves may mean too much heat

or lack of water and rapid leaf drop shows exposure to cold or

standing water in the saucer.

Living Christmas trees are generally pines or other evergreens

shaped in the traditional conical manner. Planted in a container and

pruned regularly, these trees can be “recycled” for a number of years

before planted in one’s garden (we’re beginning a new tradition with

a coastal redwood this year) or donated to selected municipalities or

schools. They will not grow indoors (even if you leave the windows

open) and should be moved outdoors before the year is over.

Catharine and I are celebrating the end of the holidays and the

beginning of the New Year somewhere in Baja with a few of our

friends. I am certain we will experience new adventures and encounter

exotic plants to share with you ... but of course that will be

another story. Happy Holidays, and see you next time.

* STEVE KAWARATANI is the owner of Landscapes by Laguna Nursery,

1540 S. Coast Highway in Laguna Beach. He is married to local artist

Catharine Cooper and has three cats. He can be reached at (949)

497-2438, or by e-mail at