Coastal and Tropical South
Buy a Great Tree
Last minute shoppers like me are searching for the best Christmas tree remaining on the lot. The search can be tough, but you can avoid a "Charlie Brown" look with these tips. If a tree seller advertises that trees are coming in each week, ask to see the most recent arrivals that may have been stored cold in transit. Run your hand along a branch to check needle retention and shake the trunk gently to make the same test. If lots of needles fall with these simple motions, move on to another tree or Christmas tree lot.
Treat Your Christmas Tree Right
Make a fresh cut on the base of your Christmas tree after you get it home, and immediately plunge it into a bucket of warm, not hot, water. Let the tree take up water overnight, then put it in the tree stand with as much water as possible. Place the tree away from heater vents and fireplaces to prevent excessive drying. Check the stand and refill it at least daily as needed. As soon as the tree stops drinking, its days are limited and you can expect some needle drop. Be careful with Christmas lights and take care to turn them off when you leave the house or go to bed.
Christmas Greens Care
Wreaths, garlands, and other evergreen indoor decorations like those circular candle bases can become fire hazards as surely as a Christmas tree can. Even if yours have been treated with a solution to prevent wilt and drying-out, misting the greens with water daily helps to extend their life and good looks. At least once a week while they are inside, lift and shake greens to let the dry needles fall into a dustpan or your hand. Remove the dry needles, especially around candles and mantelpieces to reduce their fire hazard.
Like any good Southern gardener, I have been clipping the short stems of camellia to float the flowers on a bowl of water in December. They last for days, so it came as a surprise that they can last longer, sometimes for weeks, with a simple practice. Cut the stem at 2 inches behind the flower and remove any leaves that will be underwater. Each morning when you see the flowers, make a fresh cut in each stem, and replace the water every other day.
If you put paperwhite narcissus bulbs into gravel to force them for the holiday table or to give as gifts, remember to check their dark hiding place frequently. If not, start them now as a gift that will bloom next month. Once they begin to sprout, growth comes quickly and needs your help. Water when they are an inch tall and put them in sunlight when the new white growth reaches four inches. This process keeps the stems short and the flowers at eye level, but if they stretch, put their bowl into another with taller sides to support the living centerpieces.