Written by Kelsey W.
Many people are convinced they have the opposite of a green thumb because every plant they bring into their home eventually dies, despite every effort to keep it alive. Often calling themselves “black thumbs,” these unfortunate plant killers often go years without realizing that some plants are terribly difficult to grow and others barely require any attention at all.
This holiday season, let’s explore some of the most beautiful plants that will live peacefully and beautifully on the windowsills of beginner botanists, plant killers, and anyone who occasionally forgets that, just like pets, plants need food and water, too!
Skip the Poinsettia and Go for the Christmas Cactus
Most cactuses require very little care, but they’re usually not considered a holiday plant unless you’re talking about the Christmas cactus. Named for its ability to bloom in December when other plants are dormant, the Christmas cactus just needs some indirect light and humidity to thrive. They’re not like a traditional cactus, though. Technically, they’re a “forest” cactus that does best out of direct sunlight.
The modern botanical name of the Christmas cactus is Schlumbergera, but they’re sometimes called a Zygocactus, which was the plant’s initial given name when it was discovered in Brazil in the early 1800s. A Christmas cactus can live up to 100 years with very simple and straightforward care.
Christmas cactuses are quite forgiving, and they can live for decades in the same pot with only the occasional visit with a watering can, but reporting them once every five years does a lot to keep them happy. Much of Southern California is humid enough that the Christmas cactus will only need water about every two to three weeks unless it’s kept outside in the desert. Then you might want to water it whenever the top inch of soil gets dry.
A Christmas cactus is an excellent gift for a plant killer because it’s so forgiving, but it also has the perfect name for a holiday plant gift. What better way to celebrate the holiday season than with a cactus that often blooms in December?
Celebrate the Holiday with a Rosemary Tree
Do you have a friend who doesn’t have room for a traditional Christmas tree? Consider gifting them a rosemary tree, which looks like a miniature Christmas tree and is even amenable to a few ornaments hung from its small branches.
Not only are rosemary trees quite cute when dressed up for Christmas, but they look beautiful in a red pot on a table for display. If the person to whom you give your rosemary tree is an avid chef, they can actually use the tree for various dishes as it’s an edible herb. Plus, they’re not toxic to pets, which means you can gift them and not worry about what the plant might do to a dog or cat.
Out of all the holiday-themed plants out there, rosemary trees do require a modest level of care. They’re not completely invincible, but they are very easy to maintain once you repot them after the holidays and put them in their forever spot near a bright window.
Really, the only thing you need to worry about when growing a rosemary tree is making sure the plant doesn’t get too wet or remain soggy after watering. The easiest way to keep the plant happy is to use a terra-cotta pot, which naturally pulls moisture from the soil, to keep the plant happy.
You might consider painting a terra-cotta pot red and placing the tree in the pot before giving it away, so the recipient doesn’t need to worry about repotting it or handling any difficult botanical maneuvers after the holiday season.
Find a Garden Plant They Can Forget About Until Summer
Sometimes, our lifestyles simply won’t tolerate caring for a plant for long stretches of time. Anyone who travels regularly might have a problem keeping their plants alive without hiring someone to take care of the little guys every time they travel (think flight attendants or truck drivers).
You may want to consider an outdoor plant that will thrive in harsh conditions and will do just fine when your gift recipient forgets to water the plant. If the person you want to give a plant to won’t water it for long stretches of time or might even forget about it even when it’s placed on a nearby table, you might find some success with an outdoor plant for their yard or balcony.
One excellent option is the agave, which can go weeks without any water. If you have a friend who’s gone for a month, their agave plant will survive without a lot of intervention despite the lack of water. Agave plants do need some water when you first plant them, but the occasionally rainy weather in the winter in Southern California is often quite enough to keep them happy.
Virtually any succulent you might plant outdoors or place in a pot on a balcony can go the entire winter without more than one or two visits with a watering can. You can literally put plants like the echeveria outside for weeks at a time in the winter, and they won’t care about getting any water because they’re not actively growing in the coldest months of the year.
Maybe It’s Time to Skip the Difficult Holiday Plants for Serial Plant Killers
For many black thumbs, plants represent a temporary feature in the home or office. Something that grows for a few weeks or a month and then loses all its leaves and ends up in the trash (or, hopefully, the compost bin!). Bouquets of roses are quick to wilt, and holiday plants like poinsettias in December and chrysanthemums in November last a few weeks and then fade away.
Rather than gifting your black-thumbed friend with a beautifully lush poinsettia this Christmas, try one of the following houseplants, which will only occasionally need water and will live quite easily without a lot of attention and fuss.
Rubber Plants. You can literally drop a rubber plant on the ground, and it probably won’t care. Not only are they hardy enough to withstand the occasional tumble from a wayward dog, but they’re also quite adept at remaining alive even when you completely ignore them for weeks.
In southern California, you can even grow rubber plants outside as long as the temperature doesn’t get much lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit. One of the coolest things you can do to a rubber plant during the holidays is cover it with a string of lights. They’re so tough and hardy that they don’t mind the lights at all. Consider giving a rubber plant decorated with lights to your plant-killer friend this year.
Opuntia Family Cactuses. A classic plant killer gift is a cactus, which can live through months of no water, especially in the winter when they’re not growing and dormant. When you give a cactus in December for Christmas or as a Hannukah gift, it should live just fine, even if the new owner forgets to water it for the entire month of January.
Some of the best plant killer cactuses are from the Opuntia family, which include classic SoCal plants like prickly pears. Not only are these plants a beautiful part of any Southern California garden, but they’re also tolerant of any temperature and almost any treatment under the sun. They’ll easily survive a chilly desert night as easily as they will a blisteringly hot summer day in the San Fernando Valley.
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