Christmas in July: The Love Language of Plants

July 20, 2023

The Love Language of Plants

Every plant has a good story...

Every plant has a good story, and all effective marketing involves good storytelling. So why don’t we tell more plant stories to our customers? The goal, when storytelling, is to make our customers feel something that inspires them to make a specific plant purchase. It’s our job to make them care. When it comes to marketing traditional holiday plants in fresh ways, there are simple storytelling strategies we can use to elevate perception of value and inspire action.

Get emotional

When crafting your marketing messages around holiday plants, it’s important to remember that it may not be the plant itself that means something to your customer - or the recipient of the gift plant - but the emotion the plant evokes or the memories it stirs. Whatever holidays you celebrate, or how you choose to celebrate them, there are core emotions we can agree on, at least as ideals, are generosity, togetherness, and love. It’s these emotions that we are all trying to evoke, either for ourselves or for those we buy for, when we decorate and gift holiday plants. Surround yourself, or those you care about, with

When we decorate with holiday plants, or gift them, we’re using a sort of love language. When we shift our perspective on plants in this way to focus on the emotional experience these plants offer, versus simply their form and function, we enhance their value.

Get literal

When it comes to the individual plant species, you can get literal about their stories as well. There are many stories and fun facts about our traditional holiday plants that can enrich your marketing and create emotional tethers to specific plants.

The name “rosemary” for example, is derived from the Latin name ros marinus, which means “dew of the sea”…it has nothing to do with either the names rose or Mary! The Greeks and Romans believed rosemary improved memory, and as such they would weave it into their hair to improve their minds. (I’m envisioning some great marketing photos of your staff with rosemary in their hair happening this holiday season!). Rosemary is also a token of remembrance for loved ones who have passed.

Poinsettias have a fascinating human story that dates to the 1300s in Mexico. In addition to having immense value to the Aztecs as a medicinal plant (this is historical, not a current recommendation), plants were also used to create intense red and purple textiles dyes. The Mexican legend of Pepita and the “flowers of the holy night” tethered the plants to Christmas culture.

Gifting an amaryllis? The folklore behind this beloved holiday bulb is all about love. As the story goes, a love-struck maiden named Amaryllis pierced her heart with an arrow, leaving drops of blood on the ground every day as she visited the handsome but cold and unreceptive Alteo. Finally, on her thirteenth visit a beautiful red flower bloomed along the path where Amaryllis’ blood droplets had fallen…warming Alteo’s heart and healing Amaryllis’. Awwwww.

These are just a taste of the fun folklore you can weave into your marketing for holiday plants that help flesh out the meaning of such seasonal gifts and décor.

Trend spotting

Health and wellbeing is at the very top of many of our priority lists right now. Being good to ourselves and those we love involves taking better care of ourselves regarding what we put in our bodies. This can be especially difficult to achieve during the holiday season. If you haven’t noticed, non-alcoholic aperitifs and wine alternatives are having a heyday, as are floral infused and decorated cocktails. I suspect fancy non-alcoholic cocktails are going to be quite popular during the upcoming holidays. This trend offers you a unique opportunity to expand marketing for holiday gift herbs and flowers into the healthy holidays lifestyle space.

Living the lifestyle

You’ve probably noticed I’ve repeated the word lifestyle. That’s really what the holidays come down to, isn’t it? When you’re telling the story of your plants to your customers, what you are really doing is reflecting to them the story of their lifestyle, or desired lifestyle, and how your plants fit into that vision. All with the intent of eliciting a specific range of emotional responses.

When you send out that e-newsletter about holiday gift plants, it shouldn’t be about listing off the plants you’ll have and why people should buy them. It should be a story about how holiday plants create a sense of love, togetherness, and well-being in the context of holiday gifting and entertaining. Include personal or staff memories that specific holiday plants evoke for you and them- perhaps a story about your grandmother’s Christmas cactus passed down to you. Include images and recipes for custom non-alcoholic cocktails enhanced with fresh herbs and flowers. Offer up plant folklore your customers can use to elevate their gift giving. Provide suggestions for related products (even ones you don’t sell) that make the perfect accompaniment to a holiday plant for family, friends, hosts, teachers and so on.

I don’t mean to sound crass here, but essentially what I’m saying is that there’s margin in the meaning. As you prepare for your holiday season marketing, don’t underestimate the value of tapping into your plant love language.

Originally published in Garden Center Magazine

Produce Growers: How are consumers feeling about food these days?

July 13, 2023

How concerns about both inflation and sustainability impact consumer concerns

How can produce growers address their customers concerns?

How are consumers feeling about food these days? It’s certainly a mixed bag of emotions and market realities. Combine consumer concerns about inflation and compressed home budgets, an ongoing pandemic and increased focus on health and wellness and healthier eating, and you have a complicated recipe full of challenges and opportunities as a greenhouse produce grower.

While inflation has certainly been at the forefront of consumer concerns lately, and food prices being front and center, Americans are back to eating out at levels closer to pre-pandemic times; but they are also still cooking at home in a big way and are spending more on groceries. Some bigger grocery budgets are due to price increases but they are also a result of consumers buying more vegetables and fruits.

In fact, when you scan grocery sales data trends it appears that sales in all categories are up, except alcohol, which is down. Interestingly, all three grocery stores I frequent have significantly reduced their wine and beer inventory and store footprints over the last few months. The funny thing is all of them had doubled down on noticeably bigger wine sections pre-pandemic. Just when you think a bigger booze section might be in order, given what we’ve all been through the last couple of years, shoppers seem to be trying to find healthier ways to manage the stress.

While health and wellness are predominant drivers in consumer food choices right now, speed is also a big priority. Consumers want to spend less time on meal prep. We all want to eat more veggies, but we want them to be fast and easy to cook or serve.

Case in point; after attending a weekend’s worth of kid’s activities with my nieces and nephews this past weekend, I can recall at least five separate conversations I had with my sisters and other moms about how important it was they serve healthier means and get more veggies and fruits into their kid’s mouths, but that as working professionals they don’t have time to do the necessary kitchen prep at dinner time.

Healthier eating has certainly become a bigger priority that it was pre-pandemic, but everyone’s time and patience is overstretched. Parents are looking for healthy fresh, cooked, and frozen vegetable meal options that are ready to be popped in the microwave or oven for quick serving. They all also asserted that always keeping plenty of pre-prepped snacking veggies and fruits on hand is key to managing both their time and their kid’s diets – and their own sanity.

Maintaining sanity is, I think, what consumer choices these days are coming down to. It’s not just about eating what we know will be healthy. It’s about how eating certain foods makes us feel. Are we supporting our mental and emotional wellness with what we are eating, or will we make it tougher to cope with poor food choices? I wonder how much of this mindset of self-care has influenced recent decreases in grocery store alcohol sales.

Sustainability is also more important to today’s grocery shopper than ever before. We all want faster healthy food – but we also feel guilty about all the excess packaging that comes along with it. This is particularly present for me in any number of pre-prepped meal services that I’ve tried over the last few years. Having lots of fresh vegetables and protein prepped for me certainly enables me to eat healthier in less time. But there is so much packaging involved that I always feel compelled to stop delivery after a while.

In terms of crops in high demand, there’s plenty of room to expand production on leafy greens, herbs, Cole crops, and berries; not to mention tiny tomatoes and peppers for snacking. Now, berries still present challenges for greenhouse and CEA growers that we must remedy with better innovative technology. To manage good berry production whilst maintaining flavor and shelf-life growers also need to reduce the miles between production facilities and their consumers. Growing more local is necessary.

Ultimately, I think the most important message for produce growers right now is that grocery shoppers are trying to find ways to be kinder to themselves through their relationship with food. Higher prices and supply chain issues aside, closer emotional connections between food and wellness represent big opportunities for produce growers. We want shortcuts when it comes to our food and how we eat it; we just want them to be healthy and we don’t want to feel guilty about taking them!

Plant Myth: Should You Fertilizer Your Plants with MILK?

June 28, 2023

Fertilize Your Plants and Garden with MILK?

Learn why milk may or may NOT be the answer to your plant and garden woes!

Wondering if all those apps and blogs telling you milk is the next miracle plant and garden fertilizer? Well, let me fill you in on the realities of milk as a "fertilizer" in this week's "What the Halleck" Wednesday!

Grow Tiny Tomatoes Indoors

June 8, 2023

Can I grow tomatoes indoors?

How you CAN harvest tomatoes indoors

Wish you could grow tomatoes indoors?

You can! One of the most successful ways is to go growing miniature tomato cultivars, like Micro Tom (there are lots of others these days!). Micro tomatoes are perfect for indoor gardeners who have limited space don't want to use HID grow lighting (the BIG ones).

Growing a single miniature tomato plant with a 20-30W LED spotlight is totally doable and the perfect beginner project. Tiny tomatoes are usually around 50-60 days to maturity from seedling stage.

If you want to get specific about the light metrics:

  • Tomato seedlings will need a DLI of about 15 Mol/m2/D for the first 2-3 weeks with a PPFD of about 200-300 umol/m2/day.
    • As soon as you see germination occurring turn on your grow light! You don’t want your seedling to stretch due to lack of light. Germination should occur anywhere from 7-10 days, give or take depending on home temperature. Warmer temperatures will speed germination
    • Place your 20W LED grow lamp 12 inches above your seedling pot and run your lamp for 12 hours
    • This will give your seedling a PPFD of approximately 200-300 umol/m2/s
  • Then bump to a DLI of around 20 Mol/m2/day with a PPFD of about 400-600 umol/m2/day for vegetative growth phase, for the next 3-4 weeks.
    • Place your grow light about 8-9 inches above your plants and rune the lamp 13-14 hours
    • This will give your seedling a PPFD of approximately 400-600 umol/m2/s
  • Then shift to a DLI 25-30 Mol/m2/day with a PPFD of around 600-900 umol/m2/day for the flowering and fruiting phase, which is usually around another 3-4 weeks.
    • Place your grow light about 6-8 inches above your plants and run the lamp for 14 hours.
    • This will give your seedling a PPFD of approximately 600-900 umol/m2/s

The duration of each of these lightings stages will depend on the cultivar you're growing, and how many days it takes for that cultivar to reach maturity.

Shifting the intensity of the light (PPFD) can be achieved by raising your lamp (decreases the PPFD) or lowering your lamp (increases the PPFD), and your DLl (Daily Light Integral, how much total light the canopy of your plants receives each day) is influenced by how long you leave your grow lamp on. Running your lamp longer increases DLI, while running your lamp fewer hours decreases your DLI. Note that my recommendations are generalized and your growing conditions and the lamp your using will vary.

Take care to be mindful about the heat generated by your grow lamp. Sometimes the desired PPFD requires a lamp to be placed too close to a plant or seedling that could be sensitive to the amount of heat generated by your grow lamp. So, you'll have to play around a bit with your lamp distance and monitor how your plants respond...favorably, or not!

These are typically determinate tomatoes, so once they fruit and you harvest, you should grow another plant! Consider seeding succession crops a couple of weeks apart so that you always have tiny tomatoes at your fingertips!

Pygmy Sundew Unboxing

March 17, 2023

Itty Bitty Pygmy Sundew Plants

Pygmy Sundews Arrive!

TINY PLANT UNBOXING? You asked for it!

Ok, I’m giving you a behind the scenes on an unboxing of my pygmy sundew order I received yesterday from California Carnivores (this is NOT sponsored in any way, just another in a long series of public admissions of my plant buying addiction). The original vertical video is on my Instagram Channel.

Pygmy sundews (Drosera spp.) are one of my very favorite ITTY BITTIEST plants that are great in a sunny window or lighted grow shelf. And YES they are most happy outdoors so you can also keep them outside on your balcony or patio. I walk you through the 6 species I received in this order plus a few fun care tidbits and how you can nerd out even more on carnivorous plants. You can find more info on these tiny gems in my book “Tiny Plants”. And if you’re interested in the info on morphology or propagules like gemmae, you should join my Botany for Gardeners online course through the UCLA Extension Horticulture & Gardening Program! The first spring section is full, but we’ve got a waiting list started to open a new section. Class starts April 3rd, 2023.


January 10, 2023


My Mantra Word for 2023

I don’t create New Year’s resolutions, but I do usually create a mantra for myself or business each year to keep in mind when making decisions. Recently my good friend and business partner Maria Failla asked me what my word or mantra was for the new year. I’d been noodling on it, but hadn’t nailed down just the right word yet. Then, it hit me…

Totipotency. That’s it, my mantra word for 2023. It’s also one of my very favorite botanical (biological) vocabulary words.

Totipotency (in the context of botany): The ability of a single plant cell to grow, divide, and differentiate into an entire plant

Halleck Fungi Block Print

Halleck Fungi Block Print
My first attempt at wood block printing in 30 years, from a recent fungi illustration I completed. It's not perfect...but it was fun!
PC: Leslie F. Halleck

Most of us get put on a hamster wheel at a young age. We’re all expected and trained to choose one narrow path upon which to earn a living and ultimately define ourselves as adults. The reality is all of us have so much more creative potential and or varied proclivities than that one path allows to manifest. While that one main path can certainly form a strong trunk that anchors and ground us firmly, providing stability and direction, ultimately, we must branch out if we are to grow a large leafy canopy capable of nourishing our whole selves…from roots to shoots.

Just as a seed is totipotent, containing all the genetic information needed to grow and develop into all varied functioning parts of a mature plant, so are we…seed like…totipotent.

While I certainly have an innate passion for plants, nature, and gardening, and have carved out a successful professional path in the horticulture industry, horticulture, singularly, does not define me. As a person, I encompass many seeds of passion, the first being art, that when germinated add necessary flesh to my being.

Totipotency is what guided my decision to take a step back from all my hard-earned work in the horticulture industry, and start a well-earned sabbatical. A sabbatical that will allow me to also take a step back from myself, observe and see what is missing, and begin to germinate all the other seeds of passion from which manifest my whole self.

The last few tough years of the pandemic have “helped” to break down those hard seed coats. After all, you can’t manifest your totipotency before first breaking whatever dormancy has been holding you back. That’s the theme and plan for the next year, the year I spend being 50. My days are and will be filled with new learning, creativity, and manifesting in tangible form a massive backup of art that’s been building up, patiently dormant, for far too long. And of course, I’m sure I won’t be able to resist a few interesting planty projects or opportunities if they manifest as well along the long as they help me branch out.

I hope you’ve found your word, or mantra, for the new year that helps illuminate any and all new paths and branches you hope to add to your very big and very whole tree of life.

What's the Difference Between Thanksgiving Cactus, Christmas Cactus, and Easter Cactus?

January 11, 2022

Learn About the Different Types of Holiday Cactus

I was contacted a few months ago by a reporter looking for accurate information on holiday cactus. I wrote up detailed answers to all their questions...only to get ghosted! SO, their loss is your gain. I decided to put up my detailed response as a blog post for paywall required!

Christmas Cactus

Q: Could you provide some background information on what a Christmas Cactus is, and the different types?

A:Christmas cactus are an unusual type of cactus that grows as an epiphyte or lithophyte (grows on trees or rocks), in habitats that are a bit shady and humid. Not exactly the type of environment you think of when you think cactus! Plants sport bright showing flowers in an array of vivid colors.

There is quite a bit of confusion when it comes to Christmas cactus, and the related Thanksgiving cactus and Easter cactus (in the Northern hemisphere). The name Christmas cactus refers to species and hybrids of cacti that bloom around Christmas time and belong to the genus Schlumbergera, which includes nine distinct species. Plants are Native to the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil.

There are also hybrids between the species. When you buy Christmas cactus, you’re usually buying a hybrid cultivar we call Schlumbergera x buckleyi, a cross between S. russelliana × S. truncata.

Thanksgiving Cactus

Thanksgiving cactus (or the false Christmas cactus) is S. truncata or hybrids thereof, with plants that bloom a little earlier than Christmas cactus. You can distinguish this species and its cultivars by the more pointed “teeth” on the leaves, versus the more rounded symmetrical teeth on Christmas cactus leaves.

Easter Cactus

Easter cactus, which are related and look like Christmas cactus with a series of rounded teeth on the leaves, has been reclassified as Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri -and hybrids thereof - but you’ll find them under a number of other pseudonyms in the Schlumbergera and Hatiora genera. They, as their common name would indicate, bloom around Easter time.

Visit HERE for a good visual illustration on the leaf morphology differences between the species. (Links to Iowa State University).

Top Tips for Caring for your Holiday Cactus

Providing enough light indoors is always your number one priority for the success of any houseplant. While Christmas cactus can tolerate lower light levels, if you are very careful not to overwater, the whole point of growing them is to get them to flower.

Plants will need medium to high light to bloom their best, so choose a southern or eastern window exposure if you have it or add a small grow light to your area as we head not the darker days of winter.

Water plants so that the growing media stays moist to the touch (but not soggy) and does not dry out completely between waterings. Plants are resilient, so if you forget to water and plants shrivel a bit, you can usually revive them with a good soaking.

Plants are very happy in a bright sunroom and grouped with other plants, which helps raise humidity.

Propagate Your Holiday Cactus

Vegetatively propagating holiday cactus is simple, as you can take stem tip cuttings or propagate new plants with just one whole leaf (roots and bud shoots will develop from the base of the leaf, just like many other types of succulents).

  • Carefully remove a section of stem or entire leaf pad by either twisting it off or using sharp clips.
  • Allow your cutting to rest on a dry surface for 2-3 days before you place into a small pot with moist potting soil or plug trays.
  • Let the growing media approach dry between light waterings, and before you know it cuttings will begin developing roots and buds.
  • Tips: Don’t take cuttings when plants are budding or in flower, and only take cuttings from healthy disease and pest free plants.

Note: be sure your particular plant is not a patented cultivar (it will say on the plant label or have PPAF on the label), as it is not legal for you to propagate or distribute patented plants.

IF/THEN COLLECTION at the Dallas Zoo

September 30, 2021

MUST SEE: The IF/THEN Collection Display of Women Scientists

Sponsored by The Texas Women's Foundation


Little known fact, I volunteer weekly at the Dallas Zoo as a keeper aide in the Zoo North Birds Department. Yes, it's true, every Wednesday morning you're likely to find me cleaning and tending the flamingo habitat at the zoo. The enclosure, a huge sunken garden, is populated with a flock of about 80 or so flamingos, plus several species of ducks, southern screamers, cranes, and a goose. My volunteer time at the zoo is something I look forward to every week and I love being able to give back to their animal conservation efforts.

I also happen to be a member of the Texas Women's Foundation and an avid women's empowerment advocate. So when I was taking a walk around the zoo grounds after my volunteer shift last week, I was beyond thrilled to discover this brand new IF/THEN Collection exhibit at the zoo! It's expertly deployed along the underground tunnel that connects Zoo North with the Wilds of Africa section of the zoo.

The striking, 333-foot-long mural, complemented by kiosks, features 12 amazing women who are making a difference in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) whose work promotes conservation, advances research, educates the public, and inspires those around them. This temporary installation is generously funded by a grant from the Lyda Hill Philanthropies’ IF/THEN® Fund at Texas Women’s Foundation.

Be sure to walk yourself, and your kids, through this inspiring and informative display when you are at the zoo. You can find more details HERE. And be sure to show your daughter's what a scientist looks like!

Back to top

Tips in your inbox


Sign up for the E-Newsletter for my latest green industry news updates for pros + plant and gardening hobbyists.