Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys

December, 2003
Regional Report

Favorite or New Plant

Plants for Holiday Decorating
Norfolk Island pines in containers can become mini-Christmas trees, with their own tiny lights and ornaments. Provide each room in the house with its own uniquely decorated tree, with perhaps cookie cutters hung with red ribbon bows for the kitchen. Other living plants for indoor color include African violets, azaleas, begonias, Christmas cactus, Christmas (Jerusalem) cherry, cyclamen, and kalanchoe, as well as the omnipresent chrysanthemums and poinsettias. Be sure to give these living plants bright indirect light, keep them cool and out of drafts, and water them just enough to keep the potting mix barely moist. Cacti and succulents also are good choices, but they need direct sunlight and very little water.

The garden is a treasure trove of possibilities for holiday decorations. Pyracantha berries alternated with popcorn make attractive garlands. Oranges, lemons, or apples sprinkled with cinnamon or cardamom and stuck with whole cloves make delightfully fragrant pomander balls. Rose hips add bright red and orange colors to green wreaths. Vines from grapes, honeysuckle, wisteria, willow, or ivy will bend into many usable shapes. Eucalyptus pods, pine cones, acorns, and magnolia leaf clusters provide many shades of brown. Bufford's Holly, which grows better here than the traditional variety, gives us stickery-leafed green with red berries. And, of course, there's mistletoe.

Prune to shape evergreens such as arborvitae, juniper, magnolia, pine, pittosporum, and spruce. These trimmings make great holiday decorations. But, don't let your zeal for snipping spread to pruning spring-blooming shrubs, or you'll cut off the blooms; instead, prune after blooming is done.

Herbs, too, can trim yule logs, flavor jelly, give fragrance to clusters of twigs or wreaths, and perfume the air in stove-top potpourris.

Local Buzz

Live Indoor Christmas Tree Care
If you plan to decorate a live Christmas tree indoors and then move or plant it outdoors afterwards, choose a smaller size tree, which will adapt better than a more mature one. After you bring the tree home, water it well and store it in an unheated garage or outbuilding for two or three days as a "halfway spot" till you move it indoors. Keep the rootball moist and the boughs misted.

Once the tree is in place indoors away from heating vents or fireplaces, either water it directly or by scattering ice cubes around the soil surface to slowly seep down into the entire root ball. Limit its time indoors to a maximum of seven days, fewer if the house is very warm.

Move the tree to the garage or shed or a protected spot for at least two weeks before moving or planting it in the open. The longer you enjoy the tree in the warm house, the longer it will need to readapt to outdoor conditions.

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