We are approaching the darkest time of the year. The sun rises late and sets early, and the landscape is gray and bleak, until there is some snow to reflect what sunlight we manage to receive.

This is where the holidays and houseplants come in. You need some colorful foliage and blossoms to warm your spirits on these cold, dark days.

Some houseplants are tied to Christmas, including poinsettia with its red bracts and green leaves, and Christmas cactus, which isn’t really a cactus. But they really are just winter plants and have no religious significance at all.

Jim Masse, nursery manager at Estabrook’s in Yarmouth, has a number of plants that work at this time of year.

“Frosty fern is great for the holidays,” Masse said. “It has snowy tips on the foliage and is great on a table, maybe with some simple ball ornaments and some greens around it to give it the Christmas connotation.”

Frosty fern is not technically a fern, having the botanical name Seleginella krausdianna variegatus, but it does have fern-like foliage, dark green in the center and letting the white show off at the tips. In warmer climates, where the temperature never dips below 10 degrees fahrenheit, people even grow it outdoors.

People also use frosty fern in terrariums, with a little bit of moss around it, Masse said.

“People can put the terrarium on a table themed as a fairy garden,” he said. “They put in little red chairs and other Christmas-themed stuff, and it looks great on the table.”

Masse also said you can repurpose plants that you have around the house as holiday arrangements.

“You can do a lot of things with ivy, winding it around other plants,” he said.

In talking with Masse I disparaged poinsettia, thinking them so common, dull and probably inappropriate to have around the house after Feb. 1, but Masse likes them.

“You can make a wonderful dish garden with miniature poinsettia, add some ivy to go around the plants,” he said. “It makes a great gift for the hostess if you are going to a party, using red, green or white bowls.”

Cyclamen is another great winter plant that will blossom from now all the way until the end of February, coming in a wide variety of colors.

“And who doesn’t need that color in February,” Masse said.

The plants are usually 4 to 5 inches tall, with white, pink or red blossoms, and some of them even have variegated foliage. Masse said they are another flower that works well in dish gardens.

Christmas cactus is an easy plant to grow as long as you keep your house fairly cool. Some of them bloom in November, but Masse said that it might be that people are keeping their houses warmer than they used to.

While the traditional colors are pink and red, some of the newer varieties include an almost pink color that looks very good.

Despite the name, Christmas cactus is not a cactus. It is more closely related to orchids, and does not have spines.

Kalanchoe is good plant that will also bloom throughout the winter. The require very little care, watering as little as every other week.

And if you really want to make a statement, you can buy an orchid. The blooms last a long time, they are striking and, while many people have trouble getting them to rebloom, the blossoms last long enough that they are worth having even if they only bloom that one time for you.

Nancy is convinced that the secret to getting them to bloom a second time is to ignore them, and she might be right. We have four orchids that haven’t died yet though they don’t have second blooms. At least she hasn’t killed these four as she killed many of them in the past.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

tomatwell@me.com