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After Holiday Holiday Plant Care

This show will first air on Christmas Eve Eve, which is the opposite of the Mischief Night that precedes Halloween. If you aren't on your best behavior now, you probably never will be.

Anyway, many homes will be filled with what lots of people consider to be 'temporary' plants. By the time the New Year arrives, tropicals like poinsettias will typically be tossed outside to enter The Big Sleep, from which they will not magically awaken in the Spring. (This assumes that you didn't already kill them by leaving them outdoors in cold weather.)

Once-live cut Christmas trees will be tossed to the curb, hopefully to be picked up by waste management engineers who will put them to good use (the creation of artificial reefs come to mind) before the wind turns them into tinsel-covered tumbleweeds rolling towards downtown.

It does not have to be! Cut Christmas trees, poinsettias, amaryllis, and Christmas-tree shaped evergreens can have a second life (and maybe even a third or fourth).

But first a word about paperwhites.

A member of the Narcissus family (like daffodils), paperwhites are a popular holiday gift, scenting the air with the most God-awful stench of a {quote} "fragrant" plant I have ever encountered. Yes, the pretty white flowers are pretty, and when gifted in full bloom the little bulbs will often arrive in an attractive little planter that can--and should--be used after the holidays for something that doesn't make you open up every window in the house.

Luckily, they are true one-time wonders. That means you can compost (or even toss) them after their flowers fade guilt-free, as most of our summers aren't nearly hot enough to perennialize them. Yes, you can try in very high numbered USDA Zones, but I advise against it, as they have {quote} "naturalized" in parts of California and Texas. A more terrifying invasive plant I can hardly imagine.

Amaryllis are different. These big, beautiful bulbs can reliably return for many decades (as my sister-in-law Maureen has proven with a dime-store bulb I gifted her sometime in the last millennia). If you receive them new in a kit, follow the instructions. The flowers will probably not appear for several weeks, but you can fix that timing in subsequent years; and besides, what's so bad about big, beautiful blooms appearing during the gloomiest months of the year?

When the flowers fade, clip off the top half of the stalk but leave the green leaves intact. Give them as much sun as possible during their indoor winter stay. Treat them to a gentle feeding of a dilute solution of an organic house plant fertilizer. Or a dilute dose of worm tea, or an inch of worm castings or finished compost on top of the soil.

Note: Always feed bulbs after their flowers have faded, NOT when you plant them.

Around mid-summer, clip off the (hopefully brown) leaves and move the container to a cool dark spot with good air circulation. In September, bring the pot back out, give it one substantial watering and place it in a bright, directly sunny spot. If you do this right, you will soon see green leaves emerging. At this point, give it another GENTLE feeding, water sparingly, and it should bloom again during the holidays. Repeat this procedure every year.

Poinsettias: Many years ago, the US Ambassador to Mexico admired a beautiful tropical vine and had a specimen brought back to the States, where it was exhibited at the very first Philadelphia Flower Show in 1829. Over the years, the plant was bred into an upright shape and heavily pruned to become the Christmas plant we all know and love.

As with many tropicals and sub-tropicals, the poinsettia is a non-hardy perennial that can be cared for as a houseplant in the winter but enjoys being taken outside in the summer. Remove and discard the foil wrapping and place the pot in a sink containing a few inches of water for an hour or so. Then let it drain, position it on a saucer to protect surfaces, and water VERY sparingly over the winter. Give it the brightest light you can, as there is generally not a lot of light in winter.

Take it outside when temps stay reliably in the fifties. Repotting is advised, as these plants are generally sold in really crappy soil. If you live below the frost line, plant it; otherwise move it to a bigger pot. Feed and water lightly over the summer, but keep it in dappled shade, as poinsettias are understory plants in the wild.

Bring it in before frost unpruned and show holiday guests what a REAL poinsettia looks like. Or prune it topiary style over the summer if you're a determined traditionalist.

Cut Christmas trees: Remove any ornaments (ESPECIALLY TINSEL! What were you thinking?!) Empty the water reservoir with a turkey baster, lay a tarp on the floor, lay the tree on the tarp and carry it out of the house, bottom first. Then set it up somewhere on your property where you can easily see bird activity.

Then hang suet feeders on the tree (no birdseed please) to attract those birds. Enjoy the show!

Suet provides the fat and protein that helps birds survive winter, and the tree itself offers perching and protection against predators.

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