by Charlene Burgi
Winter came early this year, which means many chores are already done. The garden is heavily mulched, plants are protected from the frigid temperatures, and most of the fallen tree leaves have been added to our compost piles. Predicted rains should supply the water our plants need to sustain themselves in spite of high winds and drying air. Spring bulbs should be nestled into the ground by now. (If not, do not delay as time is running short before they wither.) And it is still a bit too early to prune fruit trees, roses and other shrubs. What’s a gardener to do with all this spare time?
Many of us now focus on the holidays. And the holidays can still fulfill our need to tend to plants. Christmas trees, wreaths, cacti and poinsettias manage to find their way into our homes. These plants all have special needs to assure good health, but require very little attention if we honor those needs when we bring them into the house.
Christmas Tree Care
If you enjoy the beauty of a decorated tree for weeks on end, a living tree is not a good option. The tree farms and Christmas tree lots have an abundant variety of cut firs and pines that are manicured to the perfect shape for your home. When you bring your tree home, place it into a bucket of water. Make a one inch fresh cut on the bottom of the trunk before putting it into a water-holding stand and bringing the tree into the house. Add water to the tree stand and check daily to maintain the tree’s freshness. Some people use an aspirin or floral additive in the water to help the tree last longer. Keep the tree away from fireplaces and heating vents.
Living trees require more attention to assure a healthy recovery when they return to the outdoors. First, understand that a living tree should remain in the house for no more than one week. With that said, acclimate the tree to a warmer climate by moving the tree into the garage for a few days before bringing it into the house. Make certain that the tree is well-watered and place the plant container in a saucer filled with gravel to catch water that is not absorbed. This pooled water will provide needed humidity when the tree is in the house. You can place ice cubes on the rootball of the tree to provide additional moisture if needed. Keep the tree away from all heat sources. If using lights to decorate, the new LED lights will not burn the foliage. When the week is up, reverse the process by putting the tree back into the garage before moving it outdoors. Note: If you plan on planting your live tree on property other than your own, please check with the owner or agency of the property before proceeding. Many public land management agencies work at maintaining the native vegetation indigenous to that area. Your tree may not be a welcome gift.
Other Holiday Plants
Poinsettias and Christmas cacti prefer to be slightly dry before watering. The rule of thumb is to water if the soil is dry an inch into the pot. Keep both types of plants out of drafty areas. Poinsettias may enjoy the warmth of a sunny window, but avoid direct exposure to heat sources as they could dry out quickly. Christmas wreaths should also be placed away from heat sources including a door exposed to all-day sun. A daily spritzing with water can help keep your wreath fresh.