Christmas Plant Questions Answered

The Christmas season usually brings lots of questions about the proper care of those beautiful holiday plants that you bring home from the garden centre.  Hopefully the following article will answer a few of your plant questions and keep your Christmas season bright!

Poinsettia Care

When out shopping, make the poinsettia and Christmas plant purchases the last thing on your list. The car will be nice and warm and no matter how close you are to the store’s front door, do not take the plant(s) outside without a paper wrapping. Remember, these plants come from the Tropics  - that should tell you all you need to know!

How do I take care of my poinsettia after I take it home?

Poinsettia really are very easy to care for if you follow just a few care instructions. Place them in a bright light location but not in direct sun. Do not place them near drafts – hot or cold. Check the soil daily; keep the soil surface moist (not soggy!) and immediately pour off any excess water after watering. A heated room that is above 25°C will shorten the life of the colorful bracts. The optimum room temperature for poinsettias is between 15 and 24°C. Do not fertilize when blooming.

Are poinsettias poisonous?

Regarding humans, dogs, and cats, the short answer is no. There have been no confirmed fatalities caused by ingestion of poinsettia leaves and stems. Eating a poinsettia leaf will usually only cause stomach upset and in rare cases, vomiting. I would be more concerned if you are allergic to latex so do wear gloves when handling poinsettias. The white milky sap is a form of latex. For birds, please contact your avian vet.

Why are my poinsettia leaves curling, drooping, yellowing and falling off the plant?

Stress. Stress takes on many forms such as under or overwatering. Exposure to cold is a reason as well. Even a few minutes out in the cold will cause the leaves to drop. The plants also can be stressed if they have been in a plastic shipping sleeve too long. Dry air is another culprit. One must remember that plants drop one or two leaves occasionally and that is perfectly normal.   

Can I use poinsettia bracts as a cut flower?

Yes, you can! Prune off each flowering branch and immediately stem the flow of milky sap by burning the end of the branch with a lighter or candle. Each time you make a cut, follow this burning technique. Use the bracts in your holiday arrangements or in a vase of warm water. They will keep up to two weeks. Wear gloves as the sap can be irritating. As with other cut flowers, change the water every three days or so. 

Another method is to cut the branches and immediately put them in a vase of warm water. Let the milky sap flow into the water for a few minutes then replace that water with fresh. 

How much water do I give my cut Christmas tree?

The day before you set up your Christmas tree make a fresh cut and immediately put the trunk into a bucket of warm water. A fresh cut is essential as a layer of resin has formed over the end of the trunk, sealing it so water cannot be taken up. Make sure you have a reservoir that holds a lot of water and check this reservoir daily for water needs. The tree will drink a great deal of water the first week or two so do check it daily. I do not add anything to this water as some dogs and cats find it makes a great water bowl! Tree preservatives that are not good for pets.

How do I tell if a cut Christmas tree is fresh?

A freshly cut Christmas tree can last from 3-4 weeks if properly taken care of. A cut Christmas tree is fresh if it is shaken when upright and very few needles fall off. It is normal for a few needles to drop. The branches will easily bend and the needles are not yellowing or browning. Douglas fir and fir varieties like Balsam in general are the best at holding their needles the longest.

How old is my fresh cut Christmas tree?

Christmas tree farms in Canada are located in Nova Scotia, Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec and a few in British Columbia. The average 7-8 foot tree is 13-15 years old, 6 foot - 11 years old and at 4 feet they are about 9 years old.  During that growing time they are sheared and fertilized annually. 

The buds and blooms are prematurely falling off my Christmas Cacti.

This problem can be due to more than one cause. One is drought stress. When the top of the soil is dry to the touch, water thoroughly with warm water. Cold water will shock the plant and may cause bud drop. Overwatering is another cause. Always drain the pot’s saucer after watering. Leaving the plant to sit in water will cause root rot. Christmas Cacti do not like fluctuating room temperatures. Keep the room between 16 and 25°C. Do not place the plant where there are hot or cold drafts. Do not fertilize during bud and bloom. Only fertilize in spring and summer. Make sure you have your cactus near a humidifier or sit it on a pebble tray filled with water.

At purchase, make sure the Christmas Cacti is wrapped in paper or placed in a paper bag. A warm car is a must to transport it home. Do not leave it in the car while shopping – even for a few minutes.

When the flowers have wilted on my Christmas Cacti how do I take them off without disturbing the side buds?

Hold onto each leaf end and carefully, take hold of the wilted flower and with a slight twist it will come off. Wilted and dying flowers will often just drop off your plant as well. 

Should I mist my flowering Christmas plants with water?

No. Misting with anything is not advised as it may mar the flowers/bracts. To provide extra humidity, display your plants on a decorative water filled pebble tray. Lemon Cypress trees in two, four and six inch pots are the exception – mist the foliage daily with water and provide a pebble tray. 

What Christmas gift plants are toxic to children and pets?

If at any time you are unsure as to the toxicity of a Christmas plant or plant in general, call your vet, or the Poison Control Centre in Saskatoon. The Western Canada Vet Med Centre also has a 24 hour emergency call line – please familiarize yourself with their website as they do have some current restrictions in place. 

Before the Christmas holidays make sure you are aware of the Christmas gift plants that are toxic to humans and pets. A few of the most toxic are Holly, Mistletoe, Helleborus (Christmas Rose), Amaryllis, Paperwhites and English Ivy.

What florist foam bricks do I use to create a live arrangement?

The foam bricks used for live flower arrangements are a dense, deep green floral foam that must be thoroughly soaked in water before use. You can put them into a large bucket of water the night before use to make sure they are soaked right through. Each brick holds an incredible amount of water. Once taken out of the water, the bricks must be used within a week. If they are left to dry out, you cannot rehydrate them. To cut and shape the foam it is easiest to cut it with a sharp knife after it is wet. Dried floral foam is a light green and will not absorb water whatsoever. It is always used for artificial flower arrangements.

I purchased some Eucalyptus and Magnolia branches. How do I take care of them until I’m ready to decorate?

I would use these branches as soon as possible but if you must wait a few days do the following:

Eucalyptus and magnolia branches should have the bottom leaves removed.  Make a fresh cut at the bottom of the branch and insert in warm water. Do not let the leaves sit in the water. After ten to fourteen days, the eucalyptus will naturally dry but the leaves will not be wrinkled and crispy. Magnolia will last for an incredibly long time and when dry can be stored in a tissue lined box until next winter. The dried leaves can be used in wreaths, garlands and large table arrangements.

I love to grow paperwhites at Christmas but they always grow too tall and lanky and end up falling over.

There is a simple answer to this problem and it involves spiking your Paperwhite’s water with alcohol or ‘hard liquor’!  Add plain water to your Paperwhite container for about a week until you see good root growth. Drain this water off and make a 5% alcohol solution that you will continue to use as your Paperwhites grow. If you use a 40% distilled spirit (gin, vodka, rum, tequila) mix one part liquor to seven parts water to reach a 5% solution.  The bulbs height will be reduced by 1/3 to 1/2.  This solution will not affect flower size or shape.  (This is an actual verified research result from Cornell University in Ithica, N.Y.!)

Stagger rooting your paperwhites by a week or two so you have a continual supply at Christmas. Remember they have a distinct scent that you may or may not find enjoyable!

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