It goes without saying that festivities are already looking slightly different this year – Christmas markets are online and there are limits on who we can see and where we can go. But that won’t stop us from marking one of the most wonderful times of the year, and it shouldn’t for you either.
Now advent is well and truly upon us, there’s no better time to spread some good old-fashioned Christmas spirit than during the countdown.
If like us, your social media feed is dotted with people’s home decors, from kitschy cottagecore ornaments to wreaths, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with how you should turn your home into a grotto fit for Father Christmas.
But, don’t be mistaken into thinking that festive decor is all about twinkling lights on a Christmas tree.
While the magic of December is a joy to celebrate, if you’re short on space and unsure whether a whopping Christmas tree will fit within your abode, there are a range of alternatives to be had.
To help you find the perfect substitute for a festive fir, we spoke to the experts on the space-saving Christmas plants they’d advise you buy, as well as how they can be decorated and be cared for during the winter months.
Whether it’s a poinsettia or a Norfolk pine, there’s something for everyone here. All you need now is a glass of champagne, and let the celebrations begin.
You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Houseplants to buy
There really is no denying that poinsettia (Bloom & Wild, £32) is a Christmas classic and is the perfect way to add a splash of festive spirit to any room. Olivia Hardey, director of range and merchandising at Bloom & Wild, agrees, adding that “it wouldn’t be Christmas without one”.
According to Hardey, “It’s the perfect space saver, with a big impact. This rich red plant arrives through the letterbox in a gold planter and can sit anywhere in your home to bring a little festive cheer.”
Calling it “the perfect fuss-free festive plant,” Hardley says that “it likes to be warm, plenty of natural light, and only needs a small amount of water once a week – easy!”.
But you will need to keep it away from cats as it’s unsafe for them. If you do have furry friends, Hardey advises that rose plants (Bloom & Wild, £26) and fern plants (Bloom & Wild, £30) are great pet-friendly options. Both of which can be jazzed up with mini baubles and garlands to get you in the Christmas spirit. We love this set of 24 winter twilight mini decorations (Anthropologie, £10) – a fun, glittery mix.
If you’re looking for something that resembles the festive fir we all know and love, this is the answer. “The Neva the Norfolk pine (Patch Plants, from £16) is the houseplant Christmas tree,” says Richard Cheshire, a plant doctor at Patch Plants. “It’s the perfect, non-traditional tree that can be enjoyed all year round.”
He says: “It has all the characteristics of a traditional Christmas tree but it’s not actually a pine at all. It will look extremely festive draped in fairy lights in December, but it will make a very handsome houseplant all year round, particularly in Scandinavian-inspired interiors.” With this in mind, it certainly is a tree for life and not just Christmas, so be sure to keep it inside even when the festivities are over.
While it resembles the likes of the nordmann firs, this particular plant is used to tropical conditions, so it “likes medium to bright light, but doesn’t enjoy direct sun,” says Cheshire. “Give her leaves a mist every few days and be sure to check the soil stays slightly moist, with regular watering,” he advises.
It is worth noting that the Norfolk pine is toxic if consumed, so Cheshire advises that you “keep it out of reach of tiny fingers and paws; a shelf or WFH desk would be an ideal spot”.
Perhaps you’re searching for a houseplant that looks nothing like a Christmas tree. If so, Guy Barter, the chief horticulturist at the RHS, advises a ficus benjamina (Hortology, £39.99) as something he himself has at home. “It’s a tree-like evergreen that puts up with centrally heated homes if it has enough light”, he says.
The joy of it, according to Barter, is that “it’s highly robust” and “big and spreading enough to support the Christmas decorations.” If it were us, we’d be decorating with this pom pom garland (Argos, £9), which featured in our guide to the best Christmas tree decorations. Our tester noted that it “looks far more expensive than it actually is”, and praised its “very traditional, Nordic aesthetic”. The best bit of all though, “it’s not too heavy, so it doesn’t weigh the branches down”.
When caring for the ficus benjaminia, Barter advises that “most houseplants are killed by over-watering, so aim to keep the potting compost barely moist, never soggy and never bone dry. If it gets soggy dry the rootball with a kitchen towel”.
According to Cheshire, the Christmas cactus (Patch Plants, £15) got its name thanks to the fact it “flowers right around the festive season”, erupting in pink to cheer up those dark wintery days.
“Unlike most catci, it prefers a cooler and a more humid environment”, he says. In the wild you’ll find these growing in shady spots, so you’ll want to imitate these conditions at home to make sure it stays flowering when it’s meant to.
This is another all-year-round joy and likes to have its soil gently moist and adapts well to low light. During the growing season, which tends to be from April to September, you’ll want to move it so it can access brighter light to help with the development of the flowers. An easy-going plant that we will cheer up any space this Christmas.
According to Hardey, the tiny twinkle tree (Bloom & Wild, £33) “makes the perfect gift for people wanting to bring some festive magic to a smaller space”. Coming in seven different designs, there’s plenty to choose from and each one arrives with a pop-up pot, lights and decoration, so no need to buy the extras.
These are also re-plantable and the packaging is 100 per cent recyclable and single-use plastic free.
This also featured in our guide to the best real Christmas trees, with our tester praising it for the “thoughtful inclusion of additional slices of greenery to place around the tree’s base and pad out the pot”. We’re sold.
If you’re short on space, houseplant specialist and founder of HomePlants, Mercy Morris, advises you buy a fiddle-leafed fig (Beards & Daises, from £18.99) thanks to them being “statuesque and eye-catching, without taking up much floor space”.
Morris says it’s a great alternative to a standard Christmas tree because “they are tough enough to put lights on, and a big one will have a good ‘tree-like’ structure. Not too many decorations though, you want to admire those gorgeous leaves.”
With this in mind, we’d drape these delicate LED string lights (Amazon, £7.88) on the branches and opt for small baubles. This Niederegger marzipan bauble (John Lewis & Partners, £6.95) landed a spot in our round-up of tree decorations, with our tester noting that it’s a “traditional round bauble, painted with a festive scene including a commemorative ‘2020’.” For an added treat, there’s three marzipan chocolates hidden inside.
Another great way to add festivities into your home through plant life is with a wreath. This particular festive forest wreath (Bloom & Wild, £58) landed a spot in our review of the best Christmas wreaths.
While there is a range of options to choose from, this one is real and our tester noted that it’s “decorated with silver poppy seed heads, golden pine cones and seasonal foliage”.
It arrived “well-packaged and came with a useful wreath-care guide to keep it fresh for as long as possible,” and the best thing of all is that it can be hung indoors, so is a fantastic space-saving choice. To elongate its life as best as possible, make sure it is kept away from radiators and direct sunlight.
Give your houseplants the festive touch
If you’re already a proud plant parent, but you’re struggling for ways to give them the Christmassy finish, we’re here to help.
If you have plants with softer stems, like a monstera (Beards & Daisies, £16.99), philodendron (Bloombox Club, £22) or pilea (Urban Outfitters, £17), Morris says you “can add tinsel which won’t weigh down their leaves”. If it were us, we’d drape gold foil lametta (Wilko, 70p) for something subtle, yet festive.
If you have succulents (The Watered Garden, £22) and cacti (The Watered Garden, £12), Morris suggests “placing tiny baubles on them, or little wooden figures”. These set of 10 honeycomb paper ball decorations (Not On The High Street, £12) look like they’ll do the trick thanks to being light, but also colourful. The best bit is, you can choose what colour each individual ball is.
Caring for plants during winter
If like many others you purchased a houseplant during the spring lockdown and you’re now stuck for how to care for it during winter, Morris says that “plants need light as one ingredient in their energy recipe and in most cases, this light comes from the sun.”
“In our grey, dull winters they receive very little of this indoors, so it is important to reduce the other things they use in proportion. So if you water once a week, reduce it to once a fortnight; hold off feeding till March, and make sure to check that your plants aren’t sitting in water. Ornamental pot covers look great but tend to hold water,” she adds.
If you’re cutting down on watering, Cheshire says to “try the finger dip test before you water, only watering when the top two inches of soil feel dry.”
He also suggests that you avoid drastic temperature changes, you can do this by making sure your “plant isn’t near a radiator because the high temperatures can dry out their soil faster.”
“If you’re lucky enough to have underfloor heating, this can upset your plants by keeping their roots too warm. Plant stands are a good way around this problem,” Cheshire adds.
This hubsch gold planter with stand (Beards & Daisies, £49.99) featured in our review of the best plant stands and come in two sizes. Our tester noted that the “larger of the two is the perfect size for the hallway, while the smaller will work wonders in lower level spaces.”
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