Christmas Trees And Poinsettias: What To Look For And How To Keep Them Alive

Dec 2, 2016

With the holidays upon us many of us will bring new plant life into our homes.  Choosing the right poinsettia or Christmas tree can be a challenge if you don’t know what to look for. 

This hour on Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks to Cindy Haynes, associate professor of Horticulture at Iowa State University; Mark Vitosh, DNR district forester; and Richard Jauron, Iowa State University Extension horticulture specialist about finding the right poinsettia and Christmas tree. They also talk about how to keep them alive and what to do before shopping for a Christmas tree this year. 

While most of us grew up seeing red poinsettias, Haynes says there are now more colors available, but there are things to look for across the board in healthy plants.

“Pick a color that calls to you. It doesn’t have to be red anymore. It can be pink, white or orange.  Make sure it has great leaves; that they are not discolored too much around the edges.  Look for the true flowers, they should look full and big and they should not be missing.”

Once you pick one out, what about watering it?

“It depends on how long they have been dry.  If there’s one that’s wilted, go find one that isn’t so wilted. Look for the best ones you can find, get in there and start searching.”

The Iowa weather has been mild so far, but colder weather is approaching. The ideal temperatures for the poinsettia is above freezing, as it's a plant that's native to Mexico. Avoid extremes. 

“Keep them away from a cold window, keep them away from heaters as well.  Water as needed... It’s a plant that will photosynthesize.  You don’t need to put it in a window, no need for direct light. They will last quite a long time. They are a tough plant.”

The bigger plant to bring in for the holidays is a fresh cut Christmas tree.  With over 100 Christmas tree farms in Iowa, how can you tell which tree is perfect for you and your family? 

“The process actually starts before you leave the house. You want to measure and pick a spot for your tree. You want to measure the height of your ceiling. A great tool to take with you on your trip is a measuring tape or stick.  Measuring will really help with that experience. You want to look for trees that have nice big trunks,” says Vitosh. 

What's the best one to bring indoors? That depends. 

“It’s hard to say what the best tree is.  If they are going to a place with trees already cut, that’s different. You want to check that tree. Check the trunk. Will the diameter of the tree trunk fit in your holder? Make sure a pre-cut tree is fresh. A way to do that is to run your hands around the branches, if it’s breaks, it’s not a good one. Also, run your hand along the needles, if many come off, that’s not a good tree.”

Vitosh says it's also important in Iowa to get your tree early. Christmas tree farms sometimes run out of trees in December.  They'll last for 6-8 weeks as long as you keep them well watered.