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Christmas Cactus in bloom. Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/skynoir/4160484800">Sky Noir</a>, Creative Commons, some roghts reserved
Christmas Cactus in bloom. Photo: Sky Noir, Creative Commons, some roghts reserved

Keeping holiday greenery happy

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Did you get a plant as a gift for the holidays? Horticulturist Amy Ivy has some winter indoor plant care tips for poinsettias, Christmas cactus, cyclamens, and ideas for recycling the Christmas tree.

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Reported by

Todd Moe
Morning Host and Producer

Poinsettias, one of the most traditional Christmas gifts are also the easiest winter plant to maintain. Many will mistake the colored/showy part of the plant to be a blossom; however, this part is actually a modified leaf called a brack. The bracks on the plant tend to stay intact for a very long time. Of all of the gift plants you could give or receive, poinsettias are the most durable and will probably last into February. However, once a poensetta stops looking healthy, it's okay to throw it out. While you can try to sustain the plant and keep it alive, in most cases the green leaves on the plant will fall off and you'll be left with a tusk of red bracks on top and it will look very unattractive. Once the plant reaches this stage, there is no shame in looking the other way while you toss it.

Christmas cactuses bloom when they want to, but most often as the days the days get shorter. However, temperature can also stimlulate bud formation. In a good year, one can get at least two successions of bloom out of a Christmas cactus. One typically struggle with the Christmas cactus is if you buy the plant while it is in bud, which typically makes sense when giving the plant as a gift, those buds are prone to dropping off. The plant will survive and will probably bloom in a months time. But the Christmas cactus does not respond well to change. Do not despair if the plant drops its buds—it will bloom!

Cyclamens are beautiful, however, are tricky to grow as a long term house plant. Cyclamen plants do not prefer to stay very wet, so over watering can be detrimental to the plant's development. Cyclamens wilt very nicely, but if give the plant just the right amount of water, then it will perk up and you can revive the plant. If the cyclamen is overwatered or gets too wet, then the plant tends to rot. If you look at the base of your cyclamen, you'll see a large thick corm that is prone to rotting if it retains too much water. Cyclamens are also difficult to maintain in the house because they prefer full sun but chilly temperatures, preferably 50-55 degrees. It may be difficult for one to find a place that satisfys the plant's needs.

For many of us, this is the week that we think about taking the Christmas tree down. Some villages or towns have a chipping service; they will either pick it up and take it away and chip it or you can take it to a transfer station and they'll chip it there. A recycled Christmas tree makes wonderful woodchips. Another option is to cut the branches up and lay them over your perrineal flower garden. By laying some bows on top of the garden, some of the snow will become trapped. Another option is to slam the tree into a snowbank by a bird feeder. This makes a nice sheltered bush area for the birds to rest after they visit the bird feeder.

In theory, maintaining a small potted spruce trees until spring and replanting sounds nice. However, the timing is all wrong. The spruce tree should be dorment in December, not be in a house that is heated to 65-70 degrees with dry interior heat. The tree will not be ready for such an extreme transition. You can try to keep it inside until in the spring time and plant it once the ground thaws, but keeping the tree happy will be tough. If the tree is in your house now, the spruce has acclamated to warm temperatures without much sun. The spruce tree would need to be in a place that will have light exposure and will stay cool. Perhaps an attached garage that has not totally frozen.

Next year, try getting a Norfolk Island Pine for your home. The Norfolk Island Pine is a really nice little tree that prefers cool temperatures and minimal light. The houseplant starts at a foot tall and will presumably grow to fill the room.

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