Garden Variety: I’m dreaming of a potted Christmas

By Jennifer E. Beaver

If ever there was a year for homemade presents from the garden, kitchen or craft table, this is it. My giftable plants go in pots this week, and the baking is underway. With peppermint chocolate bars and oatmeal scotchies lining the pantry and dozens of snickerdoodles, peanut blossoms and almond bars to go, I’m loading up on pretty tins from Dollar Tree.
Such overly sweet “Hallmark” moments are not what stay with me about holidays past, however. I remember the Christmas my older sister Judy got divorced. She had no money and had come home to live with my parents, bringing my two nephews with her. We went from a family of four to a family of seven overnight. I was ten.
Low on funds but full of creativity, Judy made our Christmas presents. I kept the pink flowered desk set– meticulously covered metal cans and probably a toilet paper roll or two– for many years, until the glue on the pencil holder separated from the vinyl backing.
So here I am with my family intact but limited funds, channeling my inner Judy with the help of Sunset Magazine ( I’m filling garden pots with bulbs that will bloom in early spring and on into summer. The project is particularly appealing because it is easy, beautiful and low cost, cleverly combining my existing stash of 12- to 14-inch plastic pots with half-priced bulbs from Home Depot.
If I feel particularly Martha-Stewart-ish, I may spray paint everyone’s pot their favorite color– purple for Suzi, green for Patty, and so on. Then I’ll partially fill the container with potting soil and stagger the bulbs at different levels: narcissus at eight inches, daffodils at six and freesia at five. All go in pointy side up. After filling the rest of the pot with soil, I’ll place alyssum and pansy plants on top. These will provide decoration until the bulbs pop up. I’ll tell my friends to place the pots in sun and keep them watered. According to the University of California Cooperative Extension, if I plant the bulbs before December 25, they should grow well. After that, growth conditions become less favorable, and the flowers will be smaller.
One last seasonal planting thought: If someone gives you a poinsettia this Christmas, rip off that foil. It promotes root rot. Then place the plant where it will get indirect sun and let it dry out slightly between waterings.

Jennifer E. Beaver, a Wrigley resident, is a master gardener and author of Container Gardening for California.

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