LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
(12/11/20) If you struggle to keep your holiday plants and live decorations looking great, you’re not alone. Here are some pointers to keep them looking beautiful for the remainder of the holiday season.
Poinsettias and Thanksgiving and Christmas cactuses are the most colorful plants we will bring indoors this season.
Poinsettias provide that traditional red and green color to the home. Although poinsettias come in a wide variety of colors these days from hot pink to orange to white, the go-to holiday favorite of red still remains.
Thanksgiving and Christmas cactuses also come in a range of colors, including fuchsia, red, white and orange. Both plants are short-day plants, meaning they come into bloom as the day length shortens. Chrysanthemums are also short-day plants, hence their use in the fall. As the days shorten in fall into wintertime, all of these plants go into their flowering stage.
A fun fact about poinsettias: The modified leaves called bracts are what provide all the spectacular color on the plant. The flowers are very inconspicuous and can be found clustered at the center of the bracts.
Both poinsettias and holiday cactuses are native to Central and South America, so that means they both need to be kept indoors or in protected areas during cold weather because they are not cold hardy.
How do you keep those plants looking fresh for the holidays? First, be sure they are well drained. If a plant comes with a sleeve around the pot, be sure to remove it when watering or poke holes in the bottom of the sleeve to allow for drainage.
Overwatering is the No. 1 killer of indoor plants because it leads to fungal diseases, root rot and fungus gnats. Wait until the soil dries out in between watering times. Indoor plants do well with once-a-week watering, depending on the amount of light they are getting.
Light is also very important for the longevity of these plants. Be sure plants are located in a bright light location or in windows. If you are using the plants in an area to make an attractive display, be sure to move them to higher-light locations throughout the week to ensure adequate sunshine.
Place plants away from drafts or heat sources such as fireplaces and central heat air ducts. Humidity is greatly reduced indoors in the winter with the use of heaters that can dry plants out. Remember, these plants are native to tropical, high-humidity areas, so they will not do well in areas of dry heat.
Christmas cactus is notorious for dropping buds when stressed. Limiting the amount of times you move the plant along with adequate watering and light will help keep them looking great for the remainder of the season. Once they have done their job indoors, these plants can be moved out onto patios and out of direct sun in protected areas. But they should be brought in during cold weather. This plant is extremely simple to propagate and share. Simply break off one of the segmented leaf pieces and place in water to encourage new root growth, or stick it into moist potting soils and share it with friends and family.
Proper live Christmas tree and garland care includes sufficient watering. Live garlands should be misted or sprayed with water several times a week to keep it looking green and healthy.
The majority of our live-cut Christmas trees come long distances from farms across the United States. They become dehydrated if kept out of water for too long. When selecting a tree, be sure to shake the tree or branches and check for excessive needle drop. Bend the tips of some of the branches to see how pliable they are. If a branch bounces back quickly, it is healthy. If it snaps, you’ve got a dead tree on your hands. Yes, these cut trees will ultimately die, but there are varying degrees of life and death in trees.
Additionally, check the trunk of the tree. Look for fresh sap and a sticky feeling. This is an indicator of a healthier tree. If you want your Christmas tree to last as long as possible, be sure you regularly replace water in your tree stand. When you pick out your living tree, have the folks at the nursery remove 1/2 inch off the bottom of the trunk and place the tree in water as quickly as possible when you get it home. Moreover, recycle your tree. Most cities offer a curbside pickup of trees the first two weeks of January. Trees are used to stop coastal erosion or are made into mulch or compost and used throughout the state. Keep that tree going.
Finally, some coniferous plants are sold as living plants and resemble tiny Christmas trees. Some examples are stone pines, various junipers and Norfolk Island pines. These can be kept indoors during the holidays but really require a great deal more sunlight than other traditional houseplants. Norfolk Island pine is susceptible to freezing temperatures and should be protected during the winter. It can be kept indoors year-round in high-light locations.
Christmas cactuses and red poinsettias are a traditional favorite for holiday decorating. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Christmas and Thanksgiving cactuses provide beautiful color for the holiday season. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
The gorgeous red color on poinsettias comes from modified leaves called bracts. The flowers in a tiny cluster of the center of the bract are inconspicuous. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter