University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Three main questions we get asked in Extension this month include how to select and care for poinsettias, which houseplants will flower in northern New England, and which greens to use for holiday decorating.

There are many colors of poinsettias to choose from now, so you don't have to settle for just red anymore.  These include white, pink, multicolored, or solid colors with white patterns or specks.  These colored parts are not really the flowers, but modified leaves (bracts) which surround the small yellow flowers.  Look to see if these yellow flowers are just in bud, or showing pollen.  Plants with these flowers still in bud will last the longest.

If the pot has foil, pull it back to make sure the plant has good lower leaves, with none missing or diseased.  A gray, fuzzy growth on old or dead leaves is a sign of the appropriately named "gray mold" disease.  Look for a plant well-proportioned to the pot, and with a well-distributed show of color.

Poinsettias don't like extreme cold, so protect your plant well on the way home from the store by paper bags or special plant sleeves.  And don't leave it in a cold vehicle.  Once home, they don't like drafts, so keep them away from cold windows and doorways. They don't like to be overwatered, as the roots will rot.  To prevent overwatering, if pots have foil on them, make some holes in the bottom for drainage, and place the pot in a saucer to prevent damage to furniture.

Lois Berg Stack, from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, suggests African violets, holiday cacti, and peace lilies as reliable flowering plants for low- to medium-light locations.  For higher-light locations (south and west windows), try hibiscus.  Warm-climate bulbs like amaryllis and clivia flower well if given a rest period each year.  Hoya vines, jade plants, and many cacti flower occasionally if grown dry and given high light in late winter.

If you succeed with those, try anthurium, abutilon, fuchsia, gardenia, and orchids.  These plants generally require quite specific conditions to thrive and flower.  Review those requirements with your greenhouse or garden center professional to make sure your home can supply the necessary conditions.  Many of these plants are sold in mass market outlets, only to have them never bloom again in your home.   Some flowering indoor plants such as cyclamen, miniature rose, and azalea you may buy just for a long, but one-time bloom indoors.

Margaret Hagen, from the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, says the best way to get fresh holiday greens is to gather your own, if sources are available.  I like to buy them early in the season, when they are still relatively fresh, then bring home and place in water and cool until ready to use.  When pruning outdoor plants, do so carefully, and don't prune an excessive amount from any one individual plant.

The broad-leaved evergreens most commonly used in our area include holly, English ivy, and evergreen euonymus.  The narrow-leaved evergreens most commonly used are balsam fir, spruces, and pines.  Others to choose may include various cedars, junipers, and yew.  Each can be used alone, or mixed to provide variety and contrast.

Spruces make nice Christmas trees, but their needles are the most sharp and hard to work with, and they shed their needles when dry.  Pines are abundant, last a long time indoors, and do not drop their needles.  Balsam fir is popular for roping and wreaths.  Once the needles drop, they can be gathered and used to stuff fragrant balsam pillows for sachets.

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