by Charlene Burgi
December tends to be the month of misconceptions and frustrations regarding how to care for all the decorative plants coming into the house. Some of the stories overheard are surprising, while others can only make you laugh.
One humorous story came to light a few weeks ago when the subject came up regarding the hydration of cut Christmas trees. A friend shared that when her son was much younger, he was told by someone of "great knowledge" to pour antifreeze into the container used for watering their Christmas tree. It was his intent to surprise his parents with his newfound wisdom. The next day as the family entered the living room to view their newly decorated tree, they found no needles attached to the branches. The needles lay scattered around the base of the tree, leaving the limbs looking much like persimmon trees at the moment—the ornaments like persimmon fruit clinging to bare branches!
Apparently, people experiment with all types of additives in their Christmas tree water. Friends have called asking about ants invading the house after adding sugar to the water. Others have questions regarding complicated recipes containing chili powder, molasses, vermouth and anything else found in their cupboards. The truth is that a cut tree will take up water as long as the xylem (tiny tubes within the trunk) are kept open and do not sap over. In due time, bacteria will form and clog those tiny tubes that draw water up through the tree. In short, give your tree a fresh cut before placing it in the water stand, then supply fresh water—that is all that is needed. Keep the tree away from all heat sources and understand that cut trees are meant to last only two to three weeks before potentially drying out.
| Poinsettia yellow flower buds
Poinsettias are another plant that tends to get a bad rap during the holiday season. Oft times they are purchased past their prime. People tend to focus on the beauty of their bracts, not the tiny yellow flowers that should be held tight for longevity. These flowers can be found in the center of the bracts. The stores often add decorative foil to the containers of these colorful plants. Yet while poinsettias need water, they do not like to have their roots exposed to wet conditions. It is common to see these beautiful plants wilt and drop their bracts prematurely due to overwatering. The fix for this problem is easy. If you like the foil, poke holes in the bottom of it and place the plant in a saucer to allow excess water to be removed after the plant has been watered. Keep the plant in a well lit location and enjoy its beauty.
Many plants we bring into the house during this season are considered poisonous. Mistletoe, holly, narcissus, lilies and amaryllis all have varying degrees of toxicity if ingested. Be wise in exploring these plants before decorating your home, and note the behavior of those children or pets who will have access to the plants. For example, my two kittens have never taken a nip at houseplants, but they love to climb trees. Knowing this, I opted for a table-top tree to avoid potential catastrophe! If you are in a quandary, opt for silk flowers that can mimic the beauty of live plants to avoid a recipe for disaster.