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Your house is all decorated, full of holiday greenery and ready for family and guests. There’s an evergreen swag across the mantle and garland wrapped around the banister, a wreath on the front door and the tallest Christmas tree your living room ceiling can accommodate. It looks great and smells great. But it’s still a couple weeks until Christmas. How do you keep everything fresh, green and fragrant? We have a few tips.
TREES When choosing a Christmas tree, choose either a noble fir or Fraser fir, as both have good needle retention. No one enjoys sweeping up needles every single day.
You’ve heard it a hundred times, and it’s so important: Re-cut about a inch off the tree trunk at home right before you put it into water and your Christmas tree stand. Alternatively, have the folks at the nursery make the fresh cut for you and then wrap the cut trunk with damp newspaper and cover with a plastic grocery bag. As with cut flowers, the goal is to not allow the cut to dry out.
Have a couple extra packets of cut-flower food in the kitchen drawer? We like to add it to the Christmas tree stand water well. It will help prevent bacteria from growing in the water. Most important, however, is to refill the tree stand’s water well before it’s depleted. A Christmas tree can absorb a surprising amount of water, especially the first few days, so check it regularly.
Before you decorate the tree, spray it with an anti-transpirant spray, such as Wilt-pruf (available at nurseries and florists). This is an organic and biodegradable product made from pine tree resin and water that prevents your tree (and other cut holiday greenery) from drying out so quickly.
GREENERY FROM A SHOP If you buy greenery, choose garland and wreathes that feel fresh and supple. Fresh greenery will last about two weeks indoors. Central air is quite dry, so greenery should be kept away from heat vents as well as fireplaces and sunny windows. Swags and wreaths will typically last longest hung on your front door – thanks, Houston humidity! – and out of the direct sun.
When you bring your greenery home, again, treat it as you would cut flowers by recutting visible stems at a 45-degree angle and, if possible, plunging the whole thing into a bucket or sink of water. Give greenery (fresh-cut or purchased) a nice long soak so it absorbs as much water as possible. Overnight in the bathtub or a large beverage cooler is not too much. This will help keep greenery lush and smelling good. You can use a mister to mist the foliage every day, too, to help the greenery last longer, though this may compromise ribbons, dried fruit or other decorations.
GREENERY FROM YOUR GARDEN The freshest greenery is what you cut yourself, and we like to do this as much as possible. Home-grown greenery will also be easy to replace or freshen as needed. For indoor holiday decorations such as garland, swag and wreaths, choose pine, fir and cedar. These cuttings dry out more slowly than other greenery and may last several weeks if you keep them cool. Keep the cut greenery outside in the cool moist air until you’re ready to use it. Don’t forget to give it a soak, just as you do purchased greenery.
Besides pine, fir and cedar trees, other decorative green things you may have growing in your garden are:
– Burford holly
– English holly
– Mountain laurel
– Chinese tallow (seed clusters)
DO’S & DON’T’S If you plan to light your garland or wreath, use LED lights, which are much cooler than old-fashioned bulbs. Do not set candles among your greenery displays. (Dried greenery becomes just like the dried leaves and twigs used as kindling in a campfire.) Likewise, if you hang greenery around a fireplace, do not light a fire. And if you have pets or young kids, avoid greenery with poisonous berries such as holly, yew, Jerusalem cherry and mistletoe.
POINSETTIAS Poinsettia have color bracts (these are not true flowers in the botanical definition), which may be red, pink, white or a bicolor pink and white. Little (or no) pollen should be showing in the actual flowers, which are the red or green button-like parts in the center of the bract. Poinsettias are living plants, so they need sun and water to thrive. They will be fine inside for a few weeks, but keep them away from heat vents, hot and sunny windows and fireplaces.
Water carefully and only when the soil feels dry. Too little water and the plant will wilt and lower leaves will drop; too much water and the lower leaves will turn yellow and drop.
Poinsettia flowers are long-lasting and can remain showy for months. If you keep your plant going until spring, you can then transplant it outdoors. Remember that poinsettias are tropical plants, so choose a spot that is protected from north winds and can accommodate a large plant: Our neighbor’s poinsettia next to her south-facing porch grew more than 10 feet tall.
ROSEMARY TOPIARIES Little rosemary “trees” do it all: look adorable, smell great, add seasoning to food. They also wear tiny ornaments, tinsel and strings of lights very well. They will not be happy inside your house forever – it’s too dark for these sun-loving shrubs – but they can tough it out for a couple weeks before Christmas.
Water your rosemary topiary only when the soil feels very dry. (They prefer dryer conditions in nature.) Then, in the spring, transplant the rosemary to a sunny dry spot in the garden. Given the right conditions, it will grow happily for years.