Some plants take center stage around holiday time. Let’s see what you’ve learned about them with these true or false statements. The answers are at the end:
1. Boxwood tabletop trees are lovely gifts that can be planted next spring if you keep them well watered.
2. Boxwood, mistletoe, cyclamen, amaryllis, lilies, paper whites, Kalanchoe and English ivy are all toxic (with varying severity) to people or pets.
3. Cyclamen and poinsettias last longest if you keep them in a warm room (70 to 75 degrees).
4. Water in the tree holder is the best medicine for keeping a Christmas tree fresh. Also, it helps to make a fresh butt cut.
5. A fresh Christmas tree won’t drop many needles.
6. Real Christmas trees are a wonderful tradition but exact an environmental cost, since you are removing a live tree from nature and the industry routinely uses large amounts of highly toxic pesticides.
7. A living, potted Christmas tree can be planted in spring, but don’t keep it indoors for more than a week.
8. Norfolk Island pine is a great houseplant that can also be planted in the landscape, but it can grow 30 feet or more.
9. To get a Christmas cactus to bloom, you have to put it in a dark room for several weeks for a set number of hours per day.
10. Flower arrangements containing lilies are a bad idea for families that have cats.
11. Your fresh wreath made from evergreen clippings will last longest if you bring it inside the house when the thermometer dips below freezing.
12. A Kissing Triangle is a new trend, replacing the traditional mistletoe.
1. False. Boxwood “trees” are made from sticking boxwood clippings into foam (oasis) – a fun project. Do keep the oasis well watered and discard it after the season.
2. True, but not all of them are severely toxic or likely to be ingested. Kalanchoe and English ivy are very dangerous if any parts are eaten – keep them away from pets that chew. Cyclamen and amaryllis bulbs are poisonous if eaten in quantity, but they are underground and unlikely to be eaten. Boxwood leaves are toxic. Poinsettias are not dangerous – that was a myth. See: www.aspca.org or www.poison.org
3. False. Warm rooms dry poinsettias and cyclamen quickly. For plant longevity, turn down the heat at night to 65 or so, and keep daytime temperatures below 70 degrees.
4. True. Evidence indicates that aspirin, 7-Up, other products in the tree water are probably not much help.
5. False, or at least not necessarily so. Evergreens naturally shed inner needles every fall, so a fresh tree that isn’t shaken well may still drop quite a few. Also, in some years the weather pattern causes lots of needle drop for some species and it isn’t a matter of freshness.
6. False. Tree farming is an environmentally friendly form of agriculture (using small amounts of pesticides only as necessary) and tree farms provide habitat that supports many animals. New trees are planted for all that are cut.
7. True. Keep live potted trees moist once they have thawed out, and get them back outside after five days or so. Place them out of the wind and keep them moist if there are warm spells. Plant as soon as you can.
8. False. Norfolk pines are a great houseplant (that will eventually be many feet tall) but they are not hardy in Zone 5.
9. False. The easiest way to get Christmas cactus buds: Let the plant get cool during September and October (in a cool room or outside until frost is threatening). Alternatively, 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness for a few weeks will force buds to set and are necessary if you have a really warm room.
10. True. Lilies (including Easter lilies) are severely dangerous for cats, causing severe kidney failure and/or death. Use other flowers for arrangements, and always watch pets and children when new plants enter a household.
11. False. Evergreen wreaths last longest outside, no matter the weather. Inside they will dry up and drop needles soonest.
12. False. The reference is to the Kissing Ball, an orb made of evergreen pieces, bows and pine cones, hung over a doorway. It comes from an old English tradition.
Sally Cunningham is a garden writer, lecturer and consultant.