Some traditional Christmas flowers and plants – such as holly, ivy and mistletoe, are best grown outside in your garden. But certain flowers and plants are ideal for growing in a polytunnel, either in the run up to the festive season, or after Christmas is over and done. Some of the options you could consider are listed below.
Traditional Christmas Tree
You might not think of growing a Christmas tree in your polytunnel. But a polytunnel could be the ideal location for a small Christmas tree or bonsai tree to be decorated over the holidays. A living Christmas tree is definitely the most sustainable and eco-friendly option if you want to bring a tree into your home over the festive period.
The Carbon Trust estimates that a 2 metre artificial tree has a carbon footprint around 40kg CO2e, more than twice that of a real tree that ends its life in landfill, and more than ten times that of real trees that are burnt. Artificial trees, mostly made of PVC, are harmful for the environment.
Choosing a cut tree, however, also raises environmental concerns. Christmas tree plantations are not like natural forests. They are essentially mono-crop systems. And just like other mono-crop systems, they generally require the use of controversial herbicides and pesticides.
The best option is to choose a real tree that has not been cut down. Increasingly, it is possible to find real trees in pots. These can be brought into your home in December, and then placed out into your polytunnel (or garden) for the rest of the year. In a polytunnel, you will be able to have more control over the growing conditions, and a better chance of keeping your tree alive and thriving for next year.
While it may not have a partridge in it, as in the traditional Christmas song, a pear tree could also be a great choice for polytunnel growing. While a pear tree will obviously be bare over the winter months, its association with Christmas due to this song means that it deserves to be included on this list.
The Christmas period could be a great time to buy and plant new bare root fruit trees. So this winter, why not consider choosing a pear tree to place in your polytunnel? Fortunately, there are plenty of dwarf pear trees to choose from, that will fit well in a reasonably sized polytunnel.
A pear tree grown in a polytunnel or fruit cage will be protected from the elements to a degree. Such structures will also help to protect your pear tree from pests and disease.
Rosemary is one other edible crop with a Christmas association. It is a Mediterranean herb that is ideal for polytunnel growing. It requires relatively dry growing conditions, which can make it perfect for growing under cover in wetter climes.
Rosemary grown in your polytunnel can be potted up and brought indoors as a smaller alternative to a Christmas tree where space is tight. It can also be cut and dried for a range of fragrant Christmas displays. Of course, you can also use it in a wide range of Christmas recipes.
You may not think of ginger as a traditional Christmas plant. But just think about all the different recipes for the festive season that include this ingredient. A polytunnel could allow you to grow this tropical plant for yourself. They you can use it to make traditional Christmas gingerbread and a wide range of other Christmas recipes.
Traditional Christmas Poinsettia
Poinsettia is another quintessentially Christmassy plant that can find a place in your polytunnel after the holidays to grow on for next year. While your poinsettia is in your home over the festive period, water when fry to the touch, but do not over water.
To promote flowering next year, place your poinsettia in a bright window, or in your polytunnel in early spring. After the beginning of April, remove the coloured leaves and shape as needed by pinching off any growing tips. Feed your poinsettia every couple of weeks with a balanced organic feed. After September, keeping your plant in your polytunnel can help make sure that it gets no artificial light and can enter its next natural phase. Before frosts strike, bring your plant back indoors and with a little luck, it should flower once more.
Traditional Christmas Rose
The Christmas Rose is not actually a rose at all. It is in fact a member of the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae. It is an evergreen perennial plant that can provide great ornamental value during the winter months. Its enduring Christmas popularity is no doubt down to its beautiful deep green foliage and the delicate white flowers that bring a touch of cheer during the depths of winter.
Growing Christmas roses, Helleborus niger, in your polytunnel can be a good idea because these plants will do best if they are given shelter from strong, cold winds. Soil should be fertile, moist and rich in humus. You can propagate your traditional Christmas flowers in early spring, by division and could consider growing one in a container to bring into your home over Christmas.
Real red roses are also a traditional plant to grow for Christmas. Growing late blooming roses in a polytunnel could allow you to keep them in bloom for longer, and later in the year. In November and December, you can allow your roses to go into dormancy. But with a little protection, you should still be able to cut some red roses from your polytunnel for Christmas displays.
After cutting roses for Christmas displays, prune your roses in January or February to make sure they come back good and strong next year.
Traditional Christmas Cactus
These pretty plants are great for Christmas, and if you take good care of them they should last for years. These succulents can be grown inside year round. But you can also transfer them to a polytunnel for the summer months.
Water the plant when dry, but take care not to overwater. The plants can cope in a polytunnel as long as temperatures do not dip below around 5 degrees C.
Cyclamen are another cool season plant that can tolerate low winter temperatures. These flowers can bloom for more than eight weeks when given the right conditions. You can consider growing these in your polytunnel before bringing them into your home over winter. However, once Christmas is over, it is tough to get them to re-bloom.
Keep cyclamen in a relatively bright location but our of direct light. Avoid placing them in warm drafts. This will prolong the flowering period. Water them from the base, not splashing leaves. Deadhead regularly to increase the duration of blooming.
Exotic-looking amaryllis flowers bloom beautifully. They burst into flower around 4-6 weeks after you plant the bulb. Plant bulbs in containers in your polytunnel in order to provide blooms for your home over the Christmas period.
Keep your Amaryllis in a light place in your home over Christmas. Turn the container every few days to keep its form balanced and upright. Keep the soil moist but not drenched.
Once the flowers begin to fade, cut off the flowering stalk, but keep the leaves. This will help to replenish the bulb’s nutrient store. Move it into your polytunnel once all danger of frost has passed. Place it in a shady spot (below a staging bench could be ideal). In late summer or early autumn, let the plant go dormant. Cut off the yellowed leaves and do not water until November. In November, start watering once more to re-start the cycle.
Pot up the bulbs of these beautiful, white narcissus and you can enjoy blooms in as few as 2-3 weeks. These topical plants will not survive outside, or in a chilly polytunnel. But if your polytunnel is heated or you can provide additional protection, you could keep these in your polytunnel until you wish to bring the flowering plants into your home.
These are just some of the traditional Christmas plants that you could consider growing in your polytunnel. But there are plenty of other options that will enliven your winter garden, and which can be used to enhance your Christmas festivities. Don’t forget, you could also grow a wide range of other traditional Christmas plants such as holly, ivy and mistletoe elsewhere in your garden. You could also grow crops for Christmas dinner – such as Christmas potatoes, Brussels sprouts, parnips, carrots and more…
When you have a polytunnel, you always have a wide range of options for plants that you can grow. You can have a better Christmas than ever before when you take the time and effort to grow your own traditional Christmas flowers and plants.
What do you grow in your polytunnel for Christmas? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.