For Release December 5, 2000

Holiday Greenery, Keep It Fresh!

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

This holiday season always seems to bring a lot of greenery and live or fresh plants into our homes. While this greenery can be a pleasant addition to the house and the holiday festivities, it can also be a source of frustration or even a fire hazard if not cared for properly.

Live Christmas trees are becoming more popular. And who can blame someone for wanting that smell and feel of a real tree. But we must remember that Christmas trees are living plants that have started to die the minute they were cut from the roots. We can delay this inevitable death by making sure that the tree is able to take up water and that it constantly has a supply of fresh water.

As soon as you get your tree home, cut off about a half inch of the stump and place it into water. Because of the tree sap and natural defense mechanisms in the tree, it will start to seal over that cut surface fairly quickly after it is cut. Once that cut end has sealed off, the only way to get water back into the tree is to recut it. Once you have the tree in the stand, check the water two or three times a day. Highest water uptake will probably be in the first few days that the tree is up. There are additives that you can put into the tree water that may help keep it fresher. But the most important ingredient is simply water.

If there are heating vents near the tree, direct them away from the tree or shut them off completely. This will reduce water loss from the tree. Evergreen trees are highly flammable, and become more so as they dry down. Keep any open flames or heat source away from the Christmas tree. As much as I enjoy my real Christmas tree, I try to get it down and out of the house just as soon after the holidays as I can.

Holiday greenery, in the form of pine, fir, spruce and holly are also popular for holiday decorations. But remember that we are once again dealing with plants that are highly flammable. Loose greenery that is used on mantles and table tops will dry out very quickly. As the plant dries out, its flammability increases greatly. Be very careful using greenery and lit candles together. Never leave a burning candle unattended. If you find the needles on your greenery brittle, then you may want to discard it and buy fresh.

Finally weíll talk about that popular holiday flower, the poinsettia. Poinsettias are native to hillsides outside of Taxco, Mexico. What you must remember about poinsettias is that they do not like temperature extremes. If the plant gets chilled to 40 degrees or below, it is liable to lose all of itís leaves, including the colorful flower bracts. If you are buying a poinsettia on a cold day, under 50 degrees, make sure it is well wrapped, in paper not plastic, transport it in a warm vehicle, and take it home immediately.

To maximize the colorful display, the poinsettia should have daytime temperatures of 65 to 75, and night time temperatures of 60 to 65. Do not place it where it will receive blasts of warm or cold air. Temperatures above 75 will shorten bloom life and temperatures below 60 will cause root rot. Examine the potting soil daily. I did not say to water daily, but examine the potting soil daily. When the soil becomes dry to the touch, water the plant with lukewarm water. Make sure that the plant is in a saucer and that excess water can run out the bottom. Water until water does run out the bottom, then discard the excess water. Poinsettias do not like wet feet, but they donít like dry soil either. If the plant dries to wilting, it will start to drop leaves. Holiday greenery can bring extra joy into your home, if you take proper care of it!


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