December 15, 2018
The traditions of bringing evergreen trees and boughs into our homes in the depths of winter had its beginning thousands of years ago and over the millennia has morphed into modern Christmas practice. Red, white and green have become the colors of the holidays, as have the blue, white and silver themes of the Jewish faith, which are prominent in Hanukkah decorations.
Many of us bring cut evergreen trees into our homes during the holidays. Despite recycling, it has always seemed sad to me to see the streets littered in January with dead trees. Maybe a living tree would be a better choice — one that can be planted outdoors after the holidays, or kept in a container to bring inside year after year. Maintaining a living tree is a bit more of a challenge, although the rewards can be worth it.
Before bringing your potted live tree into the house, wash it carefully to remove any dirt and bugs. Transition it to the garage or a protected outdoor area for a few days to minimize the shock of moving it directly into a warm room. If you like, spray the tree with a product such as Cloud Cover to minimize needle drop. When it is time to bring your live tree indoors, choose a cool spot in the house, use only LED lighting (which is cooler than incandescent bulbs) and avoid heavy ornaments. Don’t keep your live tree inside for more than seven days and do not let it dry out at any time during this process. When it is time to take it back outside, reverse the transition process, going back into the garage or protected area for a few days before going to its permanent spot outside. If you want to plant your tree in the ground and are not sure of the best technique, please contact the UCCE Marin Master Gardeners help desk.
The poinsettia, with its lovely red or white flowers (actually modified leaves called bracts), are said by some to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem. A native to Central America, this plant will appreciate bright light, humidity and temperatures between 60 and 75 degrees. Water when the surface feels dry, but do not let it stand in water, although a tray with wet stones under the plant helps with the humidity. Poinsettias are generally considered to have a mild level of toxicity. Of course, they are not intended to be eaten by humans or pets and would most likely cause an upset stomach if eaten in large quantities (which is doubtful, since they taste so bad). They are, however, Euphorbias, so when broken, exude a milky sap that can irritate the skin of some people so be cautious when handling them. They can be disposed of safely in the compost pile as well. Festive holly, on the other hand, has bright red berries that, although beautiful, are considered poisonous. If you suspect that your pet or child has eaten any of these berries, the California Poison Control System is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-222-1221.
There are many beautiful plants that incorporate holiday colors, enhancing today’s seasonal décor — lovely and unusual plants such as anthurium, amaryllis, bromeliads, orchids, cyclamen, Christmas cactus and peace lilies (most of these plants, generally speaking, when indoors, will like to be treated the same as the poinsettia, but if in doubt, contact our help desk for more information). White varieties can be incorporated with blue ribbons and decorations in keeping with Hanukkah traditions, and red varieties fit perfectly with traditional Christmas decorations. Favorites of mine are amaryllis and cyclamen, either red or white varieties, which are available in the nurseries now and can be kept throughout the year to bloom again. In the spring, my amaryllis go outside and can get a bloom or two before coming back indoors in the fall to be “forced” to bloom again during the holidays. I hide my cyclamen in and among shade plants during the warm weather and bring them out to revive when temperatures start to cool.