For Release December 3, 2002

Taking Care of Your Holiday Plants

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

It seems that at no other time of the year do we bring so many natural plant materials into our homes as we do at Christmas time. By natural plant materials I mean things like natural greenery, real Christmas trees and poinsettias. Natural plant materials can add greatly to the holiday atmosphere in your home or they can be a nuisance, a disappointment and a fire hazard. It all depends on how you take care of them.

Purchase the freshest Christmas tree possible. Just before you set it in the stand, cut off 3/8 to 1/2 inch of the trunk to open up the water uptake vessels. The one main thing that you need to do is keep the Christmas tree stand filled with water at all times. Check it two to three times a day. If your tree has never taken up water you may want to take it down and recut the trunk. Additives are probably not nearly as critical as just keeping the stand full of water at all times.

Fresh greenery is often used in the forms of wreaths, swags or loose branches of pine, spruce or holly scattered about the house. Since these materials are all cut and no longer obtaining water, they will immediately start to dry out. The drier the plant material becomes, especially pine, spruce, fir or any evergreen, the greater the fire risk. Therefore, keep greenery, including Christmas trees, and fire/open flames well away from each other at all times. That means no unattended candles on the mantle with greenery. It also means no Christmas trees near the fireplace or wood stove.

If you possibly can, also keep the Christmas tree away from heating vents or try to close them off. Hot air from the furnace just dries the tree out faster and causes it to use more water. Then, just as soon after Christmas as possible, take the Christmas tree down and out of the house. Children never want to see the tree come down, but itís better for everyoneís safety to remove it as soon as possible.

Poinsettias always create a challenge. Here is a plant that is native to the mountains of Mexico. It is used to moderate temperatures all year around. High or low temperatures, even briefly, can cause problems such as leaf drop or root rot. So first of all, never let it get below 50 degrees. That means wrapping in paper, not plastic when you bring it home from the store.

Then place it where it wonít be exposed to cold drafts or high temperatures during the day. Ideally, a poinsettia wants to have temeratures 65 to 75 during the day and 60 to 65 at night. Higher temperatures will shorten bloom life, lower temperatures will cause rot root. Place the poinsettia container in a saucer and punch holes in that lovely foil that is wrapped around the pot. You want to make sure that excess water can drain out or, again, youíll have root rot.

Check the soil around your poinsettia every day. Stick your finger into the potting mix and if it is dry, water the plant. If it is damp, donít water. If your poinsettia dries to the point that it wilts, it will start dropping leaves and thereís no way to stop it. But you donít want to drown it either! You can keep the poinsettia through the year and try to get it to rebloom next year if you like. But if you want to do that, be sure to come down to the Extension Office and pick up our bulletin on poinsettia care and how to make it rebloom.


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