How to keep greenery alive after holidays

Despite total neglect, this little poinsettia lived to bloom again.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 8, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 7, 2005 at 11:02 p.m.
Hopefully by now most of the holiday greenery is out of your house. I've seen Christmas trees along curbs for two weeks; it's sad to see the holidays are over again.
But some of the decorations can live to serve again: topiaries, potted trees and poinsettias.
Most living holiday greenery should be acclimated to the outdoors slowly. Our recent warm weather makes this easy. Trees, particularly, need to be taken outdoors since they won't survive well in hot, dry homes. The exception is the Norfolk Island pine, which is a tender species that needs temperatures above 40 degrees.
The "Norfolk" in its name is not Norfolk, Va., but Norfolk Island in the South Pacific off Australia. Norfolk Island pines are hardy in zones 10-11, which is Miami southward.
Red cedars and Leyland cypress Christmas trees can be planted any time this winter or kept in roomy containers for use next year. Make sure they get regular watering, in or out of pots.
Topiaries made of holly and rosemary can also be set on your patio. If they are to remain indoors, be sure to mist them. Both holly and rosemary is hardy in the Gainesville area.
The biggest challenge is keeping poinsettias for another year. This involves pruning, repotting, feeding, pruning again and then giving them the darkness treatment for six weeks. Or not.
Janice Arinson, who works at Century 21 John Merrill Inc., provides the perfect example. A small red poinsettia was set up on the windowsill after the Christmas holiday of 2003. It lived and bloomed again, but not without overcoming the odds.
She wrote this winter: "This little thing has suffered total neglect all through this past year. I would water it when I noticed it drooping. This is such a surprise to me that it survived because whatever (plant) I have anything to do with means certain death. I just do not have that gardener touch, so you can see why I am so thrilled with this display of stamina despite all odds!"
With no fertilizer, no repotting, no pruning and no dark treatment it survived. And while it may not be the most lush, it certainly is a pretty little thing, as the photo attests.
However, not all plants have this sort of stamina, so if you are interested in keeping your holiday poinsettia growing, here is a suggested calendar: Calendar of poinsettia care
  • New Year's: Apply an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer, water as needed, and keep the plant in bright light.
  • Valentine's Day: Remove faded and dried parts. Prune to 5 inches above the soil.
  • St. Patrick's Day: Repot, preferably a sterile mix from a garden center mixed with builder's sand. Keep in a bright location indoors, or an area outdoors that is shaded in the afternoon.
  • Memorial Day: The poinsettia could be nearing 3 feet tall. Trim 2 to 3 inches off branches to encourage side branching. Repot to a larger container.
  • Fourth of July: Trim the plant again. Keep in filtered sunlight and slightly increase fertilizer. Root cuttings now, if you want more plants.
  • Labor Day: The plant may be tall, perhaps approaching 5 feet by this time (or more, depending on if you pruned it). Reduce fertilizer.
  • First day of fall: On or near Sept. 21, give the plant 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness and 11 hours of bright light each day. Keep night temperatures in the low 70s. Continue watering and fertilizing. Rotate the plant daily so that all sides receive light.
  • Thanksgiving: Discontinue day/night treatment. Place in a bright area. Keep protected from early frosts.
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