Get it Growing: Holiday Plants Last Longer Look Better With Proper Care

Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A.  |  8/28/2006 7:37:20 PM

Get it growing

Decorative plants, such as poinsettias, holiday cactuses and living Christmas trees, play an important part in decking the halls for the holidays.

How well you care for them once you get them home, however, has a lot to do with how long they will stay attractive.

After purchasing a holiday plant, be sure to protect it while bringing it home. Sudden exposure to low temperatures and wind will damage the plant.

In addition, make sure your plant doesn’t get crushed or tipped over on the way home. Poinsettias are particularly fragile, so handle them with care. It’s best to have them sleeved before you take them out of the store.

Holiday plants often are sold with their containers wrapped in colorful foil or placed in a pot covers. When you get your plants home, punch holes in the foil where the drainage holes of the pots are located. This allows the soil to drain properly and prevents the roots from becoming water logged. Also make sure the furniture or floor you set your plants on is protected by plastic saucers. If the pots have decorative pot covers, lift the pots out of the covers, water the plants at the sink, let them drain and then place them back in the pot covers.

Light and water are two key points to consider in caring for your plants when you get them home. The plants should, of course, be located for attractive display; but a spot where they will receive some natural light will give best results. If you are interested in continuing to grow a decorative plant after the holiday season, it is especially important to move it to a spot where it will receive ample light as soon as you are finished displaying it.

The water needs of your plants should be checked every day by feeling the soil with your finger. Water thoroughly when the soil begins to feel somewhat dry. This may be easier if you take the plant to a sink, water it, let it drain and then place it back on display. No matter how you water, though, never let a holiday plant wilt.

Low light, low humidity, drafts, drying out and being near sources of heat all can shorten the attractive life of your holiday plants. But with a little care and attention, you can make sure your holiday plants will provide beautiful displays throughout the season.

Poinsettias

The poinsettia is the most popular and decorative plant for the Christmas season. The brightly colored red, pink, salmon, creamy white or variegated "petals" actually are modified leaves called bracts. The true flowers are small and clustered in the center of the bracts.

When selecting your poinsettia, make sure all the true flowers haven’t fallen off – because those flowers are a sign your plant will remain attractive longer.

Poinsettias have long been considered poisonous, but extensive research has shown they are not. Still, prevent children and pets from chewing on them, because they could choke on pieces of the leaves.

Today’s poinsettias should hold their leaves and bracts well through the season if given proper care. After the holidays or when tired of them, most people simply discard the plants much as you would a bouquet of flowers (chop them up and put them in your compost pile). This is fine, since the plant is unlikely ever to look as good as it did when first purchased.

Holiday Cactus

Thanksgiving cactuses and Christmas cactuses have been hybridized with each other to the point that we now group today’s cultivars together under the catchall name holiday cactus. They bloom from November through January.

If your holiday cactus begins to drop buds when you bring it home, there is little you can do. These plants resent being moved at all while blooming – much less being packaged, shipped, unwrapped, displayed, purchased and taken home. But many blooms and buds will hold on, and their great beauty in shades of magenta, red, pink, orange, gold or white make their purchase worth it.

When they finish blooming, these plants should not be discarded. The holiday cactus will reward you with blooms every year for many years if grown correctly.

After all the flowers of the holiday cactus have dropped off, allow the soil to become fairly dry before watering and keep the plant in a bright, sunny window. This plant is a beautiful and easily grown houseplant, since its flattened, jointed stems arch over attractively.

An east or west window will provide plenty of light for your cactus. The plant also will thrive on a porch or patio in a semi-shaded position during the summer.

Living Christmas Trees

Various conifers, such as Norfolk Island pines, stone pines and junipers, are sold decorated as living Christmas trees. Just make sure you keep them watered while they are on display, and keep in mind that it is best not to put lights on a living plant.

After Christmas, remove the decorations and place the tree in good growing conditions. Most of these trees should be put in a sunny spot outside, since they do not like being indoors, and the cold of winter will not bother them. The exception is the Norfolk Island pine, which is not hardy and will freeze. Place it in a sunny window indoors; then you can move it outside during summer.

Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at old.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.

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Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu
Editor: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or tmerrill@agcenter.lsu.edu

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