By Jane Gates
Signal Staff Writer
Poinsettias and live Christmas trees are probably the most traditional potted plants bought to cheer up homes and offices during the holidays. Here are some instructions on how to keep them happy and healthy during the holidays — and beyond.
Give your poinsettia plant plenty of good light. Keep the soil slightly on the dry side. The soil surface should be dry to the touch before watering. It’s a good idea to keep a pan or tray beneath the pot to discourage water from staining surfaces below. Even better, fill the tray with pebbles so the pot doesn’t sit in drained water and roots can breathe.
Poinsettias can be toxic if eaten in large quantities and the sap can be a skin irritant for some people. Although not as poisonous as once thought, it’s best to keep all parts out of the mouths of toddlers and pets.
To keep your plant showy longer, buy a poinsettia that has not yet opened its flowers. The little yellow-green flowers are found clustered at the center of what appears to be the big, colorful bloom. But what looks like colorful, showy petals are actually specially adapted leaves called bracts.
Once the plant has finished blooming, leaves will start to wither from the bottom up. Now is the time to plant your indoor poinsettia outdoors — if you have a protected, frost-free spot. Poinsettias don’t like temperatures under 40 degrees.
In the past, Santa Clarita winters have been too frosty for them to survive outdoors. But temperatures have been warming — both winters and summers — so you might be able to grow them on as garden flowers if you have a sheltered spot in your landscape. In fact, the extreme heat of our current summers is becoming more threatening to poinsettias than frost.
If you purchase a living Christmas tree you can keep it alive for next year. Or you can plant it outdoors in the landscape after the holidays are over.
Christmas trees are expensive items; living trees cost even more. But a living tree can be used for a number of years so you will get more holidays for your money.
While indoors, give your container tree conditions that are as close to outdoors as you can. A living Christmas tree is either a dwarf or a baby tree — an immature seedling that may be from one of those great big giants that grow in forests. It will only be indoors for a relatively short period of time, but even so, give it as much sun or good light as you can and keep it adequately watered. If you have a garden, a patio or even a balcony where the tree can spend most of the year outdoors, you should be able to keep your tree happy in a pot for years despite spending a month indoors outfitted with ornaments.
You will have the greatest success with a potted tree if you have a variety that grows naturally small. Fir trees that ordinarily grow over 80 feet in height will only handle limited root space of a pot for an extra year or two even if given bigger containers. Beware of some of the tiny, teddy bear-like Christmas trees that look dwarf. These may be sporting the juvenile foliage of much larger-growing species and start spiking long, dark needles by next year.
When planting your Christmas tree in your landscape, choose a location that can handle the mature-sized tree. Know what kind of fir tree you are planting. Nurseries are increasingly offering smaller fir varieties as Christmas trees. Mugo Pine, slow-growing Black Pine, Korean Fir and others that are cultivated dwarfs should fit nicely into the average landscape.
But plenty of trees sold are Douglas Fir, Grand Fir, Noble Fir, Scotch Pine and a number of tall Blue Spruces — which can easily reach 80 to 200 feet in height. With trees this big, it is particularly important to choose a spot with plenty of room for growth, where needle drop will not be a problem and where they will not present a wildfire threat. All fir trees have flammable sap, particularly pines. Another alternative is to drive your future giant to an existing conifer forest where it can comfortably be at home.