After two or three weeks inside our dry warm homes and offices, living holiday decorations are often covered with dust and turning brown. Brown, dried-out trees, wreaths and garlands and wilted potted plants don’t quite add a festive touch to the holiday gatherings – and they become fire hazards. Here are a few suggestions for keeping living decorations alive and looking good until the holiday season has ended.
Holiday trees need a lot of liquid to stay fresh and green for several weeks. Water certainly provides sufficient moisture, but mold can develop in the tree stand reservoir. Check the reservoir daily and refill it to the top with a clear unsweetened soda like 7-Up or Sprite. Add a squeeze of lemon juice as well. The acidic lemon juice has an anti-bacterial effect and the soda provides a sugar boost in addition to water.
Daily misting of holiday trees and greenery will moisten the foliage, but make sure that any attached lights are UL-approved before spraying. Anti-transpirants are also good for minimizing freeze damage of frost-tender plants in winter and preventing scorched leaves on Japanese maples in summer (“Cloud Cover” is one brand name). They can be sprayed on greenery to slow evaporation.
Ivy topiaries are very popular as holiday decorations, but they are often the first to die. Dust and dry air are the major reasons for their quick demise. Household dust clogs ivy breathing pores and leaves begin to dry out within a few days. If possible, keep all topiaries, including ivy, rosemary, jasmine and boxwood, outside in a sheltered spot until just before the party. If kept inside, take them to the sink or outside to wash dust off the leaves every few days. Water when the top inch of the soil is dry, whether they’re kept inside or out.
Place flowering potted plants (chrysanthemums, azaleas, amaryllis, etc.) in bright indirect light away from heat sources. Poinsettias are semi-tropical plants, native to Mexico; newer hybrid poinsettias are better able to tolerate cold temperatures, but even they will drop leaves and bracts and the tiny yellow buds, the actual flowers, will open prematurely if exposed to sudden temperatures changes. They’ll look better longer on the always-cool front porch or in an indoor location with stable temperatures.
Remove any decorative foil or paper covering a potted plant and place the pot inside a cachepot or on on a saucer to protect furniture and floors. You need to see that the pot is not constantly standing in water. Take potted plants to the sink and use tepid, not cold water, to soak the entire root ball, then let the pot drain completely in the sink.
If kept in good shape throughout the holiday season, many potted plants as well as spring-blooming bulbs can be transplanted into the garden in January. Flowering houseplants usually have compacted root balls (which is why they need such frequent watering) that should be cut apart before planting. Small holiday evergreen trees can also be transplanted, but not all are suitable for our hot, dry climate. Italian stone pines and Japanese black pines do well here but will grow large-make sure you have the space in your garden for their size at maturity.
Send Elinor Teague plant questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com (“plants” in the subject line).