Holiday Plants

By Jeff Rugg

October 3, 2019 4 min read

Just because Christmas is over doesn't mean your poinsettia needs to be thrown out. The bright red and green leaves can help people cope with the gray days of winter. Many of the newer poinsettia varieties will keep the red bracts (leaves) until spring. The actual flowers are small and pea-sized in the center of the plant. They often fall off very early after the plant is purchased.

Don't expose the plant to drafts of any kind (especially plants on the floor) or too much direct sunlight. Keep the soil evenly damp all the time. If the soil dries out, the leaves will begin falling off, starting at the bottom of the plant. Big plants and pots with several plants in them use a lot of water. They last longest in temperatures from 65 to 75 degrees F.

Your once-fresh Christmas tree is on its way out. There may still be water in the tray under the trunk, but the tree is not taking it up very fast, as the cut has become clogged with sap. The needles are becoming stiff and brittle, so it is time to get it out of the house. What do you do with it now? First, make sure you have removed all of the ornaments, tinsel and lights.

The tree can be recycled in several ways. Some towns collect the trees so they can be chipped and used as mulch. Old Christmas trees are being used to stabilize sand dunes and stop stream erosion.

You can cut off the branches and use them as mulch to cover your own garden. Cut the branches so they will lie flat on the ground, and cover any freshly planted beds or tender plants. In the spring, the branches can be chopped up into smaller pieces and added to a compost pile.

They burn well in a campfire, but if they have dry needles, they will flame up fast. I place a branch or two at the bottom of the campfire wood for a quick fire starter. Do not burn the tree in the fireplace, because the sap can help catch the chimney on fire.

Some forest preserve districts sink the old trees into lakes so they can provide shelter for small fish. You may see a pile left out on the ice of a pond where they have been placed farther from shore. When the ice melts, they will sink.

The tree can be left in a corner of the yard to provide shelter to birds on cold winter days. Hang a bird feeder near the tree and the birds will quickly find it.

The flowers on a Christmas cactus only last a week or two. A Christmas cactus can be sensitive to too warm a temperature and dry out. It is not a true cactus and should not be allowed to dry out like a typical desert cactus. In nature, it is like many bromeliads because it is an epiphytic plant that grows on trees and other plants in South America. Epiphytes grow along branches without taking any nutrition from their host plant.

They make great houseplants because they are very long-lived and very disease- and insect-resistant. They do well with minimal care and even seem to bloom better if left to become root-bound in the pot. Just keep the soil damp; set them in a bright location that is out of direct sun; and keep the temperature in the low 70s until spring. In the spring, they can be set outside in a bright but shady location for the summer.

Jeff Rugg's column, "A Greener View," can be found at

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