Garden Plot: Christmas tree care advice, plus poinsettia and rosemary tips

Treat your poinsettia well

It’s holiday plant time again, cats and kittens!

Let’s go over the basics. Though they’ve become the No. 1 holiday plant, poinsettia (yes, that is the true plural) are not winter-hardy; in fact, they could keel over in the summertime if you so much as drop an ice cream cone near them.

So make sure the store puts that plastic wrap around them before you leave the store or garden center (you can recycle the wrap with your plastic shopping bags at the grocery store).

And don’t leave poinsettia in a cold car while you run other errands; make it your last purchase of the day.

Get it inside, remove the decorative foil and sit it in a sink with water for an hour. Then let it drain and replace the foil (if you really must). Whatever you do, do not expose a poinsettia to cold, and do not water it with the foil on.

Rosemary trees are back

Around this time of year I always extol the virtues of those little rosemary plants pruned into the shape of Christmas trees. But last year, you couldn’t find anything that looked remotely like a tree. There were rosemary plants in pots, but they looked like a bad haircut. And the first ones I saw this year (at an upscale grocery store, no less) looked like raggedy weeds in pots.

However, a quick check with the owners of several independent garden centers assures me that the real thing is back — a huge amount of rosemary pruned into the shape of a small Christmas tree.

So don’t settle for something that reminds you of Larry Fine’s hair. Keep looking until you find the real thing. They make great tabletop trees and perfect hostess gifts for holiday visits — if you do one important thing to keep them alive.

These little trees are impossibly pot-bound, so find a bigger container with drainage holes, fill in the bottom and sides with a light loose potting soil, then put it into a sink with a few inches of water for an hour or so to let it fully hydrate. Then let it drain.

Yes, you can reuse the decorate foil if you must (and if it still fits) but remove the foil when watering. Bonus: You can keep your rosemary tree outdoors as long as temperatures are above the 20s and we aren’t graced with ice, sleet or freezing rain.

And I’ll tell you how to try and keep it alive for next year in a future Plot.

Tree tips for a needle-free floor

I’m a little behind on my Christmas tree tips this year; blame a Thanksgiving that almost crept into December!

Anyway, if you haven’t obtained your tree yet, I urge you to visit a Christmas tree farm and have it cut fresh for you. You pick it, they cut it and haul it to your car.

Before you load it however, make sure the tree gets a good shaking to remove any pests or debris — side-to-side, not by pounding the cut trunk on the ground. If they have a tree-shaking machine, use it.

When you get it home, cut another inch off the bottom with a bow saw and stand the tree in a bucket of water for 24 hours; this extra hydration is the secret to a truly fireproof tree.

Then place it in its stand, fill the stand with water and let the tree spread open for a solid 24 hours before you decorate it.

But, of course, some of you will purchase a pre-cut tree from some guy with fingerless gloves on the street outside of Rockwell’s rib joint (yum!).

Examine such trees carefully; the branches must be supple, not stiff. Take a pass if you’re unsure, or risk having a sharp green floor on Christmas morning.

Just as you would with a fresh-cut tree, make sure to shake if off to get rid of sleepy bugs and fall leaves, cut an inch off the trunk when you get it home then plunge it into a bucket of water for 24 hours. This step is also essential with pre-cut trees that may have become moisture-deprived.

Mike McGrath was editor-in-chief of ORGANIC GARDENING magazine from 1990 through 1997. He has been the host of the nationally syndicated public radio show “You Bet Your Garden” since 1998 and WTOP Garden Editor since 1999. Send him your garden or pest control questions at

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

© 2019 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up