Gardening: Caring for decorative greens
by Mary Robson, WSU Area Extension Agent
Home decorations can last better and be safer for use if they are handled properly.
Evergreen trees, once cut, can rapidly become ever-browns if they dry out. Before choosing a tree, be sure it is freshly green, not browning at the edges of the needles. Select a tree stand that will hold at least 2 to 3 quarts of water, and keep it filled regularly. Before putting the tree up, saw 1 to 2 inches off the trunk to allow freshly exposed fibers to take up water more efficiently. Put the tree in water immediately after cutting it. If the trunk is already sealed over from being cut, it won't absorb needed water.
A six-foot tree will use about two quarts of water the first day in the house. Don't let the water reservoir run dry, because the tree will stop taking in water if it dries out. Check it daily, or twice a day if the water reservoir is small. Do not combine lighted candles with greens in any form; this creates a substantial fire hazard.
Living Christmas trees are often difficult to keep well watered. Also, they cannot be left in a warm home for more than about 10 days, because the tree will be tricked by warm temperatures into moving out of dormancy. It may begin to grow and then be damaged when placed outside in cold temperatures. Keep the tree in the home for about a week, then return it to a cool, sheltered location such as a garage to re-acclimate it to cold temperatures. (especially if the weather is below freezing).
The challenge with a living tree is to get the water to penetrate the root ball properly. Investigate the way the root ball is wrapped. Some living trees are in a soil/sawdust mix within a larger container. Others are bundled in burlap, with roots chopped from mechanical harvesting. Loosen the burlap and check the interior of the soil directly next to the roots. It may be necessary to set the root ball in a container and water it from below. Leave a section of the burlap folded open to add water to the inside of the ball.
Flowering plants differ in their requirements. Poinsettias are native to Mexico, where they appreciate warm temperatures. Do not leave a poinsettia where it will get a rapid change of temperature, such as in a drafty doorway. Mild temperatures, between 65-75 degrees F., are best. Do not let them dry out and provide as much bright light as possible. Lack of light, under- or over-watering, and drafts will rapidly send poinsettias into decline.
Another heat-lover is amaryllis. Keep them evenly watered, using tepid water. They appreciate a temperature of 60-70 F, or even a bit warmer. Again, keep them out of drafts.
For a cooler location, perhaps one with changing air temperatures, forced tulips or florist's cyclamen will do better than either poinsettias or amaryllis. Cyclamen resemble butterflies landed on decorative dark green rounded leaves. They need cool temperatures, and thrive where the average is about 50 degrees. (An unheated room is perfect.) Keep evenly watered, but don't allow water to stand on the leaves or on the crown of the plant.
Forced pots of red and white tulips are often sold during December. Keep these as cool as possible; they will even survive temperatures in the high 30's without damage if they are acclimated by being left outside for decoration. A very warm house will shorten the life span of the pot of bulbs. Think of bulbs as needing temperatures similar to what we would get in a cool spring.
Living plants add lasting pleasure to holidays, and will survive well if treated with some care.
Visit WSU's Agriculture Site on the World-Wide Web at http://www.cahe.wsu.edu.