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Christmas Trees, Evergreen Boughs and the Classic Poinsettias
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

December 9, 2012

Above, our 2011 Christmas tree decorated by Yves sat in front of the doors out to the water. Below, a nice little decoration of white poinsettias in front of a small store in Santa Barbara California. Author photos.

Garden centres are now well known for the outdoor Christmas materials they feature. First and foremost would be the live Christmas trees available soon if not already. These are hardy spruce, fir and pine varieties all potted and nicely clipped in a conical shape, and locally grown. The advantage of such small, evergreens is that the plants are able to be grown out-of-doors after their indoor Christmas use is over. The small trees will survive in a home over the festive season (ideally from ten to 14 days), but turning the heat down substantially each night will help prolong their life. These trees will need watering whenever the soil feels dry to the touch and water should be applied until it runs out the holes in the pot. Soon after watering, throw away any excess water so the pot does not sit in water.

Right after Christmas, the living Christmas tree, if it’s to be kept over Winter, should be planted in the owner's or a friend's garden. If the soil is already frozen, or you are unable to dig a hole to accommodate the pot (at the time you purchase your living Christmas tree), simply move it to the outdoors against a sheltered area of a house foundation. Place a good layer of old leaves around the container, and then some wire mesh or plastic garden netting to hold the leaves in place. A piece of garden centre burlap or Arbotex wrapped around the foliage will protect the needles from burning in severe exposures.

Now, there are other types of living evergreens sold in food supermarkets and elsewhere--which are not nearly as suitable because they're not grown in our climate. Most of these (generally smaller in size and decorated with presents etc.) are grown in California or Oregon, and are varieties that are not hardy if planted outdoors in Ontario. These small imported trees should be treated much as cut flowers are--discarded at the end of the season!

Good garden centres, currently also should be your main source of supply for other difficult-to-obtain items such as decorative evergreen rope, boughs and wreaths. These are available now and if you are considering using some of them, do get in soon while the selection is good. Cedar rope, for example, has been a traditional Christmas decoration item for decades. About five years ago pine rope was added to their lines by most garden centres, and in the last couple of years, balsam rope too has been available. Pine and balsam have the great ad-vantage over cedar that they do not dry out nearly as quickly.

It’s still important, however, that if using any of these “rope” products (really, they are small branches of the evergreen wired together in the form of a continuous garland and sold in 25, 50 and 75 ft. lengths), that they be used outdoors where the dry-out factor is reduced. If you do decide to use them indoors, choose either the pine or balsam, and try to keep the amount of time they are in use to a maximum of two weeks. Another trick you can try is spraying them with a product such as Wilt-Pruf to lessen the drying out. Also, do turn down your heat to a minimum at night.

Much the same applies to the evergreen boughs. Many people prefer to use cedar because of the nice aroma, but keep in mind balsam has a nice aroma in the house as well, and it will withstand the indoor heat much longer.

Now let’s think about the most popular Christmas plant of all—the Poinsettia. The best way to buy Poinsettias is to visit a garden centre or nursery which specializes in growing them, or at least stocks a wide selection of cultivars (colours, tints, and even some doubles).

By visiting an indoor plant specialist for your Poinsettias, and at a location where you know the plants have been well looked after before you take them home you’ll have the best success. Often, poinsettias are purchased from roadside sellers, or mass merchandisers who don’t even care enough to wrap the plants for transport to a vehicle. Imagine how much good and proper care the plants receive before you buy them! Poinsettia plants ex-posed to cold air (10° C. or 50° F.) prior to you purchase will simply not do well in the home. The exposure to cold is the most common cause of the dropping of leaves and coloured bracts in the home.

In the past few years, poinsettia trees--the traditional plants on trunks of at least 70 centimetres (30 inches) have become increasingly popular. Again, this year a number of newer varieties, as well as the standard solid red, have been created as “trees” and are available generally as a special order from your garden centre. Be sure to ask. These are stunning in a home over the entire Christmas season in that they put the flowers at a much higher level--eye level if you set them on a coffee table!

Regardless of where you buy your poinsettias, as mentioned, it is important that they NOT be exposed to cold temperatures even for a minute or two on the way between store and car, or car and house. If it's below 10° C, be absolutely sure that your plant is wrapped well for transport between the store, your car and your home. In very cold or windy conditions, well wrapped means an outer cover of green or fancy paper and/or plastic with layers of newspaper inside as well. This inner newspaper insulation is the most important aspect.

When you buy your poinsettias, keep in mind that by following the suggestions given here, you will easily be able to keep them thriving and looking terrific at least until Easter!

Care of your Christmas poinsettias is simple. They require at least six hours of bright light (indirect sunlight) each day. Judge the light by whether or not you are able to read fine print. You should be able to note a strong shadow with your hand over a piece of paper. As soon as you get the plants home, water them well so water runs through the holes in the bottom of the pots. About ten minutes after watering, pour away any and all excess water that ran through the holes. This is very important; as with most houseplants, poinsettias do not like to grow in a pot that is sitting in water. Check your poinsettias daily for water. When the soil in the pots feels dry, water well.

Since the plants are at the peak of their output, a liquid or soluble fertilizer should be applied according to pack-age directions. Poinsettias prefer temperatures between 16° and 22° C. (60° and 72° F.) in the daytime, with a reduction of 4-6 degrees C. at nights. One final important hint is to make sure your Poinsettias are never placed in drafts of any type--either cold or warm air. That means avoiding places which receive blasts of cold air from doors to the outside, or the same of warm air from heating ducts.

Now, about the myth which unfortunately occasionally still gets media coverage. Some people still think that the foliage of poinsettias is poisonous. No part of Poinsettia plants is poisonous, according to a major research work carried out in the early 1970s at Ohio State University. Consumer and Corporate Affairs Canada removed the poinsettia from its poisonous plant list three decades ago! Still, as with all plants, it is advisable to keep them out of the reach of children, as poisonous insecticides may have been used on the foliage during their greenhouse growing. The plants themselves, however, are NOT poisonous.

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