Garden Guy: Gifting Plants for the Holidays

Monday, December 12, 2022

By Bruce Bennett

If you have been a gardener for more than a few years, you have probably been pegged by those around you as a gardening authority and someone who is all about plants. If that’s the case, gift-giving is a snap for you. Gifting a plant will make perfect sense. You just need to know the right plant to give to someone. 

And, let’s face it, plants are one of those presents that will keep on providing happy thoughts for years to come. They can also help stave off seasonal depression, improve air quality in their environment and enhance room decor. 

The fact that they are also readily available for last minute shopping and can be very budget-friendly only helps to make your decision the easier. They are, quite simply, great Christmas and holiday gifts, and, you get to take the credit for them. But, of all the possibilities, what are the best plants for you to give as gifts?

Poinsettia - not a good idea for a gift
Knowing your recipient is the most important part of choosing a houseplant as a gift. A water-sipping succulent might be most appropriate for a busy on-the-go type of friend, while a shade-tolerant fern could fit better in a shady apartment with an observant owner. 

If the potential recipient is already a plant-lover, consider an unusual choice that may test their skills. In any case, including a ceramic pot and a bag of the appropriate potting mix can be an excellent addition to the Christmas / Hanukkah plant package you decide to pull together.

That said, before you decide to give a plant as a gift, if you don’t already have the answers to these questions, do a bit of research first so you’re sure that it’s the right type of plant to give:
  1. The next time you are in your friend’s home, check the light levels where plants might be well placed.
  2. Is your friend allergic to flowers? If so, giving succulents or other foliage plants as a gift will be better than flowering plants.
  3. Does your friend have a pet? If so, make sure the plant you are gifting isn’t poisonous to the type of pet they have.
  4. Does your friend hate a certain color? Then avoid giving plants that have that flower color (or that have flowers at all).
If you know that your friend would like a plant for the holidays, but you just don’t know which plant to choose, that’s why I’m here - to provide a few ideas for you. Generally speaking, there are three gift-able types of indoor plants that make excellent holiday gifts: traditional, easy-to-care-for, and extra-special.

Christmas cactus
Among the traditional category, the first thought is probably the ever-popular red-leaved Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima - above). 

Restrain yourself from giving this one. Not only is it too ubiquitous and obvious a gift, it is also a short-timer in the horticultural scheme of things. By the end of the holidays, both the green leaves and red bracts will begin shriveling and falling off. Then, if someone is attempting to recolor the plant for the next holiday season, there are the months of plant sequestration in a dark room and ….... Well, just don’t do it! 

Instead, consider something hardier, like the Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii - shown) or one of its cousins, Thanksgiving Cactus and Easter Cactus, with their nice pink, white, orange and flowers which bloom for more than a month and require minimum maintenance and do well in full sun to part-shade.

Bulbs are another way to go. You can easily wrap unsprouted bulbs or give ones that have emerged from dormancy and has green leaves growing. 

Amaryllis (Amaryllis belladonna) and the ever-fragrant Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus - shown) are the Christmas poster children for bulbs. 

And, you could also include Hyacinths, Grape Hyacinths and Daffodils in this mix of possibilities. Keep the plant in a well-lit area. 

When the blooms drop later in the winter, cut the flower stalk and keep the leaves until those also die back for the season. 

With proper care, bulbs can happily survive to enhance several holiday seasons.

Another of the traditional plants would be every Italian cook’s favorite aromatic herb, Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis). 

Often trimmed into the shape of a mini-Christmas tree, they make excellent, multi-purpose hostess gifts. 

They can remain an indoor potted herb to be snipped as needed for a meal or can be planted in the yard this coming spring and will grow much larger and have small light blue flowers. 

No matter whether indoors or out, give them as much sunlight as possible.

Spider plant
Among the easy-to-care-for category, consider one of the following: For bright-light areas, the Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum) is an old favorite. 

It can be kept as a bushy, pot-sized plant or left to grow its hanging branches from which will grow youngsters upon youngsters down to some four feet long. 

Smaller sun lovers could include Succulents, colorful Bromeliads and the extremely low-maintenance Air Plants (Tillandsia) (which can grow nicely in suspended glass balls). 

For a typical shady room, take a look at the upright Snake Plant (Dracaena trifasciata) and Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior), as well as the ever-popular hanging/climbing Philodendron (Philodendron).

Norfolk Island Pine
Among the extra-special plant category, I’d include reasonably easy-growing plants such as the Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla - shown), Bonsai (various species), Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis) and the ever red-flowered Flamingo Flower (Anthurium andraeanum). 

In the wilds of the South Pacific, the Norfolk Pine can reach some 200’ tall, while in the average living room, that height will max-out at around 6’ (just right for a layered living Christmas tree in its own right). 

The Moth Orchid is, arguably, one of the easiest orchids to grow. And, the Anthurium has bright red, green, and white colors that can constantly bloom for long periods making them an excellent indoor color spot year-round. 

The blooms are distinctive heart-shaped waxy red spathes with yellow tail-like flower spikes.

Holiday plants aren’t a one-size-fits-all gift. Get your green-thumbed friend something that really suits his or her fancy. Remember, both the friend and you could be looking at that holiday gift for many years to come. Allow one to remember your thoughtfulness and consideration while you, inwardly, smile at your educated and right-on plant gift-giving decision. 

Happy Holidays! to you and yours and Happy Gardening all year long!

Garden Guy Bruce Bennett
Contributing columnist, Bruce Bennett, is a Master Gardener, garden designer and lecturer.

If you have questions concerning this article and your own landscape or care to suggest a gardening topic for a future column, contact Bruce at

Previous columns by Bruce Bennett here


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