Caring for holiday plants during the season and beyond


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There are several traditional holiday plants including live and cut Christmas trees, poinsettias, and Christmas cactus. Proper care of these plants will allow you to enjoy them for the long holiday season. Live Christmas trees will give pleasure for years to come. Here are some suggestions for keeping your plants alive and well.

Cut Christmas trees should be as fresh as possible. The color of the tree may not be a good indicator of freshness since some trees are spray painted green. A fresh tree is also a safer tree. Once the tree loses 20 percent of its moisture, it becomes ignitable.

The needles and branches should be pliable and flexible. Be sure it is not already losing an excessive amount of needles. Any resin on the base should be sticky.

Once you have the tree home, cut one inch off the base and place in a bucket of water in a cool place until you are ready to decorate it.

When ready to decorate, place the tree in a sturdy holder with plenty of room for water. Never let the water supply run dry. Do not place it near heat sources such as radiators or fireplaces.

Living trees, balled and burlapped or in a container, can be purchased from a garden center or nursery. Be sure to know where you want to plant it so that the garden center can help you pick the appropriate size and type of tree.

Before the ground freezes, dig a hole twice the size of the root ball. Move the soil from the hole and protect it from freezing. Fill the hole with something that can be easily removed like leaves to keep it from freezing. This allows you to plant the tree and water it well.

You must rethink the season. Living trees should be kept in the house no more than seven-10 days (or even less). In addition, you do not want to shock the tree or force new growth. Acclimate it by placing it in a cool protected place (like a garage or unheated porch) for several days. Place it in the house in the coolest place possible away from heat and drafts. As soon as Christmas is over begin moving it out, reversing the process. To plant the tree, remove the protective layer, place it in the hole, backfill, water and mulch.

Poinsettias should be in prime condition when purchased. Look for dark green foliage and undamaged colorful bracts (colored portion is a type of leaf called a bract).

Display the poinsettia in an area without drafts from doors, windows, or heaters. The room should be cool. Keep the soil evenly moist but not excessively wet. Soil surface should begin to dry between waterings. Never let the plant wilt.

To rebloom a poinsettia, move the plant outside after all chance of frost. Prune the plant to shape removing three-four inches. Grow the plant through the summer bringing it in before frost. Provide bright light, fertilizer, and even water.

Poinsettias form flowers when the days are shorter than 12 hours. Beginning on Oct. 1, provide darkness from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. by placing it in a closet or room where the light will not be turned on. It only takes a small amount of light to prevent the plant from flowering. You must provide as bright a light as possible during the day. Don’t forget to move the plant in and out of the light daily. The plant can be moved to normal light after 40 days.

Christmas cactus are long lived with no dormancy. They require more water than most cactus. They like bright light and should be fertilized every two weeks until the buds form, then stop fertilizing.

Christmas cactus flowering is also dependent on day length. They need 13 hours of darkness to flower. Place them in an unused room or closet from 6 p.m. until 7 a.m. Don’t forget to move them into the light daily. Once buds form they will continue to develop without moving.

Plants are one way to provide festive color to your home. With a little bit of care, they can provide a long season of enjoyment. Happy Holidays!

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