For Release December 7, 1999

Caring For Your Christmas Plants

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

No other holiday seems to bring as many plants into the home as Christmas. Youíve got Christmas trees, poinsettias, mistletoe and miscellaneous greenery and foliage. Properly used and properly cared for, these plants can bring a lot of joy and atmosphere into the home. But used improperly or not cared for properly and they will bring not only frustration but a potential risk to health and home.

The one universal critical factor is water. For Christmas trees (real ones, naturally) and poinsettias it is important to maintain proper watering levels. For many of the holiday decorations you are using cut greenery that starts drying out the minute it is cut. Within two weeks most of this greenery is quite dry. There isnít much you can do to prevent this. You need to wait as long as possible to decorate with this sort of material and then keep open flames and heat as far away from these dried materials as possible. They are very flammable.

Poinsettias have long had the reputation of being poisonous. They are not. They do have a milky sap that can be quite irritating to skin, especially tissues in the mouth and nose and I rather imagine that getting some of that sap in or near the eye may not be too pleasant either. But ingestion of poinsettia plant material will not kill you. While we donít use nearly as much mistletoe as we used to, this is a plant material to watch closely. The berries are the most likely part of the plant to be ingested. If you have mistletoe hanging in your house, make sure that the berries do not fall off where children or pets might eat them.

Poinsettias are very sensitive to temperature and moisture fluctuations. They donít like drafts and they donít like hot spots. They prefer daytime temperatures between 65 and 75 and night time temperatures of 60 to 65. Temperatures over 75 will greatly shorten bloom life and temperatures below 60 will cause root rot. Places NOT to put poinsettias include: near doors or windows or on top of a television. They can be near a window if they are not touching the window and shades are drawn at night so that they wonít catch a cold draft.

Poinsettias need good drainage. When you get yours home, after protecting it from chilly air on the way, place it in a saucer and be sure that water can drain out of the bottom of the pot. If the pot was wrapped in foil, punch holes through the foil. If the plant gets waterlogged and stays waterlogged it will develop root rot. Check the soil daily. When the top inch of potting soil starts to dry out give it a good soaking. If the poinsettia ever dries out to the point of wilting it will start to drop all its leaves and colorful bracts. The plant wonít die if you get it watered, buty it will continue to drop its leaves.

Finally, Christmas trees. A good fresh Christmas tree will take up a lot of water. For the first couple of weeks it would be a good idea to check the water three times a day. If the tree is not taking up any water there is some kind of a problem and there probably isnít a cure. If you didn't cut off a half inch slice off the trunk you could try cutting or recutting, but if that doesnít work then the tree is past hope and all you can do is get it out of the house as soon after Christmas as possible. You can try adding sugar and bleach to the water, but my experience is that a fresh tree and straight water is the best combination.

The Christmas atmosphere is oft created with the combination of plants around us. Take care of them to enhance that holiday atmosphere. But also take care of them to protect your family and home!


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