Off to a party? Plants make great hostess gifts

When in doubt about what you can take to a hostess, select a plant:

• Norfolk Island Pine. This open-branched evergreen fits into small spaces — on top of desks, counters and tables. It likes bright light near a window, but not direct sun. Keep the soil moist but don’t let it dry out or stand in water.

• Cast Iron Plant. It’s as rugged as its name because it needs virtually nothing to thrive. Its foot-long, upright dark-green leaves are narrow and nice — they just need dusting occasionally. Place it near bright light, not full sun, and don’t water very often.

• African violet. These are returning as favored plants for indoor miniature/fairy gardens. They like bright, filtered sun, nothing hot and direct. Give them moist, not wet, soil; feed with a special African violet fertilizer.

• Combo planters. Using a basket, china bowl or small metal tub, tuck a few small pots of greenhouse-grown plants — miniature ivy, creeping fig, ferns, mini orchids — and group them in the container. Tuck packing straw, moss or shredded paper around them.

– McClatchy Newspapers

Easy favor for hostess without the mostest time

A New Year’s bash is one of the easier parties to throw — even at the last minute. Everyone’s already in the merry-making mood, so it’s just a matter of setting the stage.

You can do that with decor, food, beverages and music, but it’s also nice to offer a party favor that guests can take home as a token of a special evening.

Monica Pedersen, a designer, HGTV host and author of “Make it Beautiful: Designs and Ideas for Entertaining at Home” (Agate Midway, 2012), has a favorite fragranced candle she likes to give.

“Pretty, scented votives wrapped like a firecracker are always easy favors,” she says.

– The Associated Press

For you, a warmer start to 2013

And if you’re looking for a little gift to yourself to start the new year, consider Wingscapes’ AutoFeeder, which can save you countless trips through the snow to refill your bird feeder.

The AutoFeeder has a programmable timer that lets you determine how much seed to dispense and when. That prevents the birds from emptying your feeder quickly, so you don’t have to refill as often.

The company says birds learn to visit at feeding time, so you can time that for when you’re home to enjoy them.

The AutoFeeder can be ordered for $129.95 plus shipping at or (888) 811-9464.

– McClatchy Newspapers