While all of our annual decorations have their rightful place in a storage box awaiting their debut next December, what do we do about the poinsettias, paperwhites (or Narcissus), and Christmas cacti we’ve bought or received as gifts? It feels wrong to throw them away. I even get a little guilty twinge, like the man in the red suit is watching and marking me off on his “naughty” list… But the landfill doesn’t have to be their final resting place. I’ve searched the internet and found ways to keep holiday plants alive and well all year until they can bloom again next December.
Perhaps the most popular holiday plant, poinsettias come in a wide variety of colors. The festive bright colorful “flowers” are actually the topmost leaves of the plant. Poinsettias are well adapted to indoor temperatures so you can keep them going just about as long as you care to have them around (my Mom kept one giant plant going for almost two years!). Upkeep is fairly simple but gets a little tricky as the plants needs to be moved in and out of the dark starting in October to create the dramatic colors we all know so well. See How to Keep a Poinsettia Going After Christmas
These fragrant Christmas flowers can easily be forced to bloom in the dead of winter in as little as four short weeks. If your plant is growing in potted soil*, it’s possible to save your bulbs for use next season. Checking the blogosphere, I discovered that many people have had success regrowing their bulbs by planting them in a garden or repotting them during the fall then moving them to a cool, dark place until forcing them to sprout once again. The key is to let the bulbs replenish their store of energy (gathered through the soil), which allows them to blossom once again. Some tips on how to best do this can be found on GardenWeb and eHow.
*Paperwhites can also grow in shallow trays with gravel and water, but this depletes the bulbs store of energy and greatly reduces their chance to re-bloom.
I grew up in the western Colorado desert and even I don’t normally associate cacti with Christmas (except for one unfortunate family outing to cut down the Christmas tree during which I sat down on an unsuspecting pile of snow only to land on a hidden prickly plant), but these holiday favorites are loved for their blossoms – thought to naturally flower at Christmas – that resemble holiday ornaments dangling from the tips of their leaves. With a little TLC, a Christmas cactus can be kept as a houseplant for years and forced into bloom for many Christmases to come. According to gardener Helen Stewart on Suite101, “place your Christmas cactus [each fall] in a location in which the plant will be in total darkness for 12 hours each night (a closet with shut door) for six weeks or until flower buds appear. Once flower buds appear, the Christmas cactus can be returned to its usual location to bloom.”
And what about that Christmas tree I mentioned earlier? While mine was fated to end up in the hands of my garbage man, yours can have a more honorable “retirement.” Here are a few other options for discarding or treecycling your Tannenbaum:
- Check with you local city sanitation department or transfer station to see if any recycling opportunities are available. New York City holds an annual MulchFest (held this year on January 8 & 9, 2011) in which residents can bring their tree to any local park to have it reduced to mulch to nourish plants and flowers in that same park. Read more here.
- Have a garden? Your tree might just be the fertilizer you need. Bring a soil sample to the Nature Center for testing (free for members). If you have a basic garden bed the acidity of the pine needles can help neutralize the soil making it better for plants to grow.
- Create a fish habitat. Tossing your tree into your natural backyard pond could be a good way to make a new abode for the fish who call it home. The needles eventually drop, creating lots of nooks and crannies that provide protection for eggs and from predatory birds. Just make sure your pond if deep enough to cover the tree and attach anchors (such as cinderblocks) to each end of the tree so it sinks to the bottom.