Our daily routine during this time of year is often 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 holiday 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. Trees were most likely cut sometime in October or November if grown locally and perhaps as long ago as August or September from far away growers, so it has been without water for some time. If you made a family event out of tree hunting at any one our local Christmas Tree Farms, your tree is much fresher and could easily last till New Year's even if you put it up the first of the month. For other trees, tree is no longer taking up any water and the needles often are already dry by Christmas day. Those trees need to be watched carefully and any heat source like decorations using a lit candle needs to be kept far away for safety reasons. A dry holiday tree will become a burning inferno very quickly.
Once the decision is made to take the tree down, you can recycle the entire tree in the home landscape 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 can also 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 the tree that benefit the birds. Pine cones covered with peanut butter, strings of popcorn and fresh cranberries are easy ones. You cannot burn cut up brances or 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 it. Recycle all those dried needles from the floor to the compost pile.
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 not water logged 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.
About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.