The Buzz

Holiday Plants

I grew up with an aluminum Christmas tree and a color wheel so I promised myself that I would always have a real tree for my kids…until as toddlers, my two boys got pneumonia two years in a row after Christmas and the pediatrician said to start thinking “artificial”. But for those of you lucky enough to have a real tree, should you buy a “cut” tree or a live tree to plant after the season?

Cut trees are crops, just like corn. Every year a new crop is planted for harvest 8-15 years or more down the road. After Christmas, bring your tree to The Garden for recycling or take it to The Yard Mulch Co. and they give us a $5 credit for each tree which helps us purchase soil mixes and mulch throughout the season.

Live trees sound like a really good idea BUT the reality is almost all of them die. The first problem is that the best looking trees like Fraser Firs are not suited for this area. You’re removing soil from where it should be (that possibly contains insects and microbes not native to this area} and placing it in a hole surrounded by a different type soil. There are varieties of evergreens suited for this area that are sheared to Christmas tree shape, but they are weak stemmed and difficult to decorate. The second problem is that no matter which kind you choose, you can only have it inside about 3 days. After that, the warm temperatures start the buds to swell and they will be damaged by cold temperatures when planted. It will look fine until it starts getting hot, then the needles start dropping. So the best suggestion is save yourself the trouble and just go ahead and buy a dead, I mean cut, tree from the start!

´╗┐You can slow the needle drop by spraying the tree and/or your wreaths and garland with an anti-desiccant like Wilt-Pruf or Cloud Cover or even a Dormant Oil.  Keep your fresh greens away from windows or heat sources that may dry them out.

Poinsettias should be kept in a bright light location, away from cold and drafts and keep them moist but not wet. Use caution watering if it's wrapped with a non draining decorative cover. The question comes up every year “Are poinsettias poisonous?”. NO, THEY ARE NOT. THEY’RE NOT POISONOUS TO PEOPLE, DOGS OR CATS. That’s not to say if you eat enough of them you won’t throw up or get diarrhea, but you won’t die from them. The sap also may irritate some people’s skin.

Paperwhite Narcissus are available for forcing right now and they ARE poisonous. They’re more so to pets than humans, but because of their taste, animals seldom take more than a taste. Paperwhites are very fragrant and have been pre-chilled so they are ready for planting in soil or more often in bowls of gravel. When grown in gravel, water should just touch the base of the bulb, no higher. It takes 5-6 weeks normally to bring them into bloom but you can speed the process up a little by giving them a little gentle bottom heat. Low light conditions often cause the stems to elongate causing them to flop over. You can help prevent this by adding a little alcohol to the water. Start adding alcohol when the plants are around 2” tall. The alcohol content needs to be around 5%. At 10%, the bulbs can be damaged. You can use any hard liquor (no beer or wine) or rubbing alcohol. To determine how much you need to add, divide the percentage of alcohol by 5 and subtract 1 to give you parts of water to alcohol. Liquor that is 100 proof is 50% alcohol. So 50 divided by 5 is 10, subtract 1 = 9 parts water to 1 part alcohol. Alcohol can reduce the stem height by a third or more without affecting the flowers.

Amaryllis are my favorite Christmas flower. A top quality bulb will produce 2 – 3 stems, each with 4 – 6 flowers up to 6” across. They are available in red, white, pink, green and a multitude of variegated selections. If you can’t find a top quality bulb, come by The Garden’s Visitor Center. We are growing some fantastic bulbs for a mere $20 each while they last.

After Christmas checklist:

Take your tree to the Horticulture Building at The Garden to be recycled.                                      

Throw your poinsettia in the compost pile or plant it as a background plant in the flower garden after April 10th.      

 Plant your paperwhites in the flower garden where they may rebloom.  

 Plant your amaryllis in the flower garden, many will survive the winter and bloom in the spring. For the best flowers though, buy a new bulb every year!



By Jim Crowder, MBG horticulturist

Posted by Memphis Botanic Garden at 9:07 AM


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