At Home, Home & Garden

Holiday tree and plant care

Poinsettias should avoid drafts and dry heat.

During the holiday and winter months, we tend to turn our focus indoors as the rains (we hope) set in. With a little love, you can keep the plants and trees you purchase for the holiday season fresh and well cared for to enjoy as long as possible.


Select the freshest-looking tree available. To test for freshness, gently grasp a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pull it toward you. Very few needles should come off in your hand. Shake or bounce the tree on its stump. You should not see an excessive amount of green needles fall to the ground. Some loss of interior brown needles is normal.

Care for your cut Christmas tree as you would a bouquet of fresh flowers. Make a straight cut across the base of the trunk, taking off about an inch, and immediately place the trunk in water. Check the water level often. (Most tree retailers or lots will make a fresh cut for you on the spot.) Place the tree in a cool spot, away from appliances. Keep your tree fresh with a liquid tree preserve, which will keep needles green with its quick absorption. A polymer granule tree preserve will also keep a tree fresher by absorbing and then slowly releasing water.


Buy a live tree that is suited to your climate zone. Choose the healthiest-looking tree available and test for freshness as described above for cut trees. Think about where you’ll eventually plant your tree, because live trees will grow to full-size trees before you know it. With proper care in a large enough container, you should be able to move your tree from outside to indoors to enjoy as your Christmas tree
for several successive holidays.

Keep your live tree indoors for no more than 10 days, keeping it well watered and away from heat. After the holidays, move your tree outdoors where it will get filtered sunlight and protection from wind. Allow it two to three weeks to acclimatize, and then put it where it will stay until next December — or plant it. You can keep the same live tree in its container through several holiday seasons, depending on how fast it grows (but plant it before it becomes root bound). Be sure it gets the right amount of light and water.

Pick up your live tree by the pot — not by the stem. Many live plants start their decline during careless transport. Protect your tree en route to
your home.


Keep your new poinsettia in bright, indirect light and away from pets (they’re poisonous). Keep the temperature around 65°–70°F and the soil just moist. Avoid drafts and dry heat, such as too near a fireplace or heater, and feed it a well-balanced fertilizer. With luck and dedication, you may be able to get your poinsettia to bloom again next year.

In March or April, when the bracts begin to turn a muddy green, cut the plant back to 8 inches tall. Keep it near a sunny window, and by May it should have new growth. Transplant it to a larger pot, and during the summer put it outside. Fertilize it with a balanced fertilizer twice a month until December. Around the first of October, start giving it 14 hours of darkness and 6 to 8 hours of bright sun, keeping the temperature about 70°F. With luck, your poinsettia will be blooming again in December.


Certain bulbs can be “forced” in pots — tricked into thinking that they have gone through a winter season and that it is spring and time to blossom. These include amaryllis, crocus, daffodil, dwarf iris, freesia, grape hyacinth, paperwhite narcissus, scilla, and tulip bulbs.

To force bulbs, plant in a shallow container or bulb pan (a pot that is wider than it is tall), with the roots facing down. Amaryllis should be planted in pots with drainage holes. Put a small amount of soil in the pot, then the bulb, then more soil, firming it around the roots and bulb. Leave the upper half to two-thirds of the bulb above the soil.

Crocus, daffodil, freesia, hyacinth, paperwhite, tulip, and most other smaller bulbs go in pots without drainage holes, with decorative stones, gravel, or potting soil. Cold and dark treatment: A dark, unheated garage or refrigerator is ideal for this.

Treatment times vary per bulb: crocus 4–6 weeks; daffodil 12–14 weeks; dwarf iris 15 weeks; hyacinth 12 weeks; tulip at least 8 weeks (15 weeks is better). Once you see sprouts or roots growing, you can take them out of the dark. Bring the pots into the coldest part of the house (50°–60°F is preferable) with indirect sunlight. Gradually accustom them to warmth and light. Once the shoots are 4–6 inches tall, move them to a bright, sunny window with lots of direct sunlight to stimulate blooming.
To keep the blooms lasting longer, move the plants to indirect light from time to time and to a cooler part of the house during the night; water through the blooming period.


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Julia Strzesieski is the marketing coordinator for Cole Hardware and can be reached at [email protected].