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Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016

Take the right steps to keep holiday plants healthy

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Teresa Wibbenmeyer arranges poinsettias Tuesday at Garden Lane Nursery
(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Lights, garland and figurines aren't the only items used to brighten homes for the holidays. Many people purchase live plants to decorate.

That's why experts caution consumers to take the right steps to keep plants healthy throughout the season.

Poinsettias, Christmas cacti, Norfolk pines and rosemary Christmas trees are among the popular holiday plants, said Donna Aufdenberg, horticulture specialist for University of Missouri Extension's Southeast region.

"Norfolks are great for making Charlie Brown Christmas trees and putting miniature ornaments on it," Aufdenberg said.

Norfolks and rosemary Christmas trees, which are the rosemary herbs out of the garden shaved into the shape of Christmas trees, should be treated like regular houseplants, Aufdenberg said.

The most popular holiday plant is the poinsettia, which likes sun for at least half a day, said David Trinklein, University of Missouri horticulturalist.

"Be sure your newly purchased indoor plants are well-protected during the trip from the store to your home," Trinklein said. "Exposure to icy temperatures for just a few moments may cause injury to sensitive plants."

Be sure to punch holes in decorative foil wraps to prevent soggy soil conditions and empty the saucer placed beneath the pot to prevent it from standing in water, Trinklein said.

As for the Christmas cactus, it's pretty easy to take care of, said Shirley McCall, co-owner of Garden Lane Nursery, which sells Christmas cacti and poinsettias.

"Poinsettias need to be kept clear of hot or cold drafts and be in rooms of at least 60 degrees," McCall said.

These holiday plants need good light but not direct sun light, Aufdenberg said. The plants should be kept in rooms with medium to high light and placed in the east or west window where it is warmer and has ideal lighting, she said.

"You should avoid placing them near electrical appliances such as the TV," Aufdenberg said.

Keep plants moist but don't over water them, Aufdenberg said. To keep from over watering, test the soil. If it seems dry, then water it, she said.

"Water thoroughly and seldom rather than frequently and a little bit -- usually about once a week," Aufdenberg said.

Use water that is tepid, or at room temperature because cold tap water may shock plants, Aufdenberg said. Keep room temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees, she said.

"If a cactus dries out too much, it will drop blooms so be sure to water once a week. If poinsettias are drying out, they will lose bracts, which are the colored leaves," Aufdenberg said.

Plants usually come in some type of cellophane wrapper. After Christmas, remove those. With the wrappers, plants tend to hold too much moisture and the root ball of the plant will stay too moist, she said.

"If you bring home a living Christmas tree to be planted outdoors later, be sure to dig the planting hole before the ground freezes. Mulch and cover the backfill soil and the planting hole to keep them dry and unfrozen," Trinklein said.

Transplanting Christmas trees isn't as common as it used to be, Aufdenberg said.

"But people still do it --someone who wants to add to landscape or keep it special," she said.

For those who want to keep their Christmas tree living, keep it well-watered, Trinklein said. Do not keep the tree indoors for more than a week, he said. If outdoor temperatures are extremely cold, the tree should be moved to a cool, protected area, such as an unheated garage, for several days before planting it in its permanent outdoor location. Then, plant the tree promptly, he said.