Living trees and plants always brighten the holidays


Although beautiful, poinsettia plants are difficult to keep after the holidays. Jason Reeves, a horticulturist with the University of Tennessee Gardens recommends they be added to the compost pile when they lose their appeal.  Photo courtesy UTIA.

Looking for ideas for decking your halls and walls?  Here are some tips from Jason Reeves, horticulturist at the UT Gardens, Jackson, for using natural greenery, some of which may be available for free:

Prune a little fresh-cut greenery from your landscape. When pruning the greenery, cut back to a branch so as not to leave a stub. When cutting conifers, do not cut beyond the innermost needles. If you do, it may not regenerate from that point again. To extend the life of fresh-cut greenery, soak it in a bucket of water overnight to hydrate the leaves and stems before using.

Use cyclamen, kalanchoe, poinsettia, paperwhites, amaryllis, Christmas cactus, English ivy and rosemary topiaries for weeks of added color and interest to the home during the holidays. Most perform at their highest in bright, indirect light, away from drafts. Rosemary would appreciate as much light as possible. While some may be attractive for years to come, others, like cyclamen, kalanchoe and poinsettias are often best added to the compost pile once they begin to decline. Keep your paperwhites from flopping over by adding alcohol. For more information, check out this link:

Some natural greenery can present problems when grown indoors, Reeves cautions. “Growing rosemary indoors can be a bit tricky. While it is one of the most drought-tolerant plants once established in the landscape, it resents drying out in a pot,” he said. “Seldom will rosemary recover, once it has dried out. By the same token, it does not like wet soil. Check it daily and keep the soil slightly moist.”  Reeves recommends planting it outdoors in the spring in a sunny, well-drained location after the danger of frost has passed. He adds that most of the topiaried rosemaries available around the holidays are not reliably winter hardy outdoors in Tennessee. The cultivars 'Arp' and 'Hill Hardy' are two of the hardier cultivars.

Reeves also cautions about growing live trees. “The idea of a living Christmas tree that can be planted outdoors after the holiday may sound appealing, but without proper selection and care the experience can be disappointing,” Reeves said.

“First, you should carefully select a tree that is suited to your area of the state,” said Reeves. “While white pine, spruce and fir will work in the cooler parts of Tennessee, they should be avoided in the warmer regions of the state. Virginia pine, eastern red cedar, Japanese cedar and Arizona cypress are good choices for all areas in Tennessee.” Reeves added that hemlock and Leyland cypress should be avoided.

“Hemlock and Leyland cypress experience the numerous problems with insects and disease, once inserted into the landscape,” Reeves said.

If you do choose to have a living tree indoors for the holiday – one that you plan to plant outside once the packages are open and Santa is long gone, Reeves says you should plan to set it outside really quickly. “Any living tree brought indoors should not remain inside any longer than five days,” he said. “One option is decorating and enjoying the tree while still outdoors before bringing it inside. Be sure to keep it well watered, but not standing in water.”

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The UT Gardens
includes plant collections located in Knoxville, Jackson and Crossville. Designated as the official botanical garden for the State of Tennessee, the collections are part of the UT Institute of Agriculture. The gardens’ mission is to foster appreciation, education and stewardship of plants through garden displays, educational programs and research trials. The gardens are open during all seasons and free to the public.



Jason Reeves
, UT West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center, 731-424-1643