Our usual daily routine during this time of year often is interrupted with time away from home, having family and friends stop by, planned or unplanned. One of those pleasant interruptions is the live holiday tree and the many gift plants you give or receive.
Taking care of the tree once it is up and decorated really means making sure there is plenty of water in the reservoir. There are products available you can add to the water that promise to extend the freshness of the tree. But remember that the tree most likely was cut sometime in October or November, so it has been without water for some time. If you made a family event out of tree hunting at any one the local Christmas Tree farms, your tree is much fresher and easily will last till New Year’s even if you put it up the first of the month. For other trees, the needles will be dry by Christmas and the tree is no longer taking up any water. Those trees need to be watched carefully and any heat source like a lit candle needs to be kept far away for safety reasons.
Once the decision is made to take the tree down, you can recycle the entire tree by using the evergreen branches over your tender perennials or other perennials in the garden that are early spring targets for the rabbits. Spring bulbs also can benefit from the protection, not from the cold, but from the rabbits, as well. If you want to leave the tree whole, it will provide shelter for the birds, especially if you also feed the birds in your yard. An interesting project for the kids over the holiday break and into January and February is to make edible decorations for that tree that benefit the birds. Pine cones covered with peanut butter, strings of popcorn and fresh cranberries are easy ones.
You cannot cut up and burn the trunk in the fireplace because of all the sap, so store till spring and use it in the garden to grow pole beans or peas on in the garden.
Holiday plants can be moved around the home to accommodate their needs a lot better than the tree, which usually gets put in the only place it fits. Just about all of our holiday gift plants like cooler temperatures, especially at night, to keep them looking fresh and have the flowers last a long time. Holiday plants will need to be kept moist, but not overly wet. The best way to be sure they are waterlogged is to either remove the colored foil paper or punch drainage holes in the foil paper and place the pot on a saucer as you do your other houseplants. They like bright, indirect light during the day, so you may keep them in an appropriate window and later bring them into the front room or dining room for the family gathering, where the light is at a much lower level.
• Richard Hentschel is a Horticulture Extension educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. This column originates on his blog at http://go.illinois.edu/overthegardenfence. You also can stay tuned to more garden and yard updates with “This Week in the Garden” videos at http://www.facebook.com/extensiondkk/videos and the “Green Side Up” podcast at http://go.illinois.edu/greensideup . The Kendall County Master Gardener Help Desk is closed for the season and will resume in spring 2020.