Care for your living holiday decorations

“At Christmas, play and make good cheer...”

The most celebrated of all holiday plants is the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrimaEuphorbia pulcherrima). Known as noche buena in its native Mexico, the red flowers we’ve come to prize are actually modified leaves called bracts. The inconspicuous yellow portion in the center is the flower. Through the efforts of Paul Ecke, the poinsettia is now available in different colors.

The poinsettia will likely grow too tall to stay indoors permanently (they grow 10 feet and more). I consider them an old-fashioned garden friend, planted either as a tall bush or informal hedge. Don’t expect them, however, to bloom nearly as well as their first holiday, and grow them only in sunny, frostless areas of Laguna.

The Christmas cactus (Zygocactus truncatus) is a popular hanging plant from Brazil. Not a true cactus, it requires more water and is my mom’s favorite houseplant. The pink, red or white flowers are very showy, and its blooming schedule will let you know that Christmas is coming.


Care of these and other Christmas plants are easy, just follow a few instructions. Place the plant in a sunny window and avoid sudden temperature changes. Keep the soil moist, but don’t let water stand in the plant’s saucer or foil.

Gradual leaf drop is an indication of not enough light; crinkling, yellowing leaves may mean too much heat or lack of water; and rapid leaf drop shows exposure to cold or standing water in the saucer.

Living Christmas trees are generally pines or other evergreens shaped in the traditional conical manner.

Planted in a container and pruned regularly, these trees can be “recycled” for years before planted in one’s garden or donated to certain municipalities or schools.


Living Christmas trees should be sheared regularly to maintain shape and to limit size.

They should visit in your home for only two weeks. Prior to being moved indoors, they should be well-watered. They will be happiest and healthiest if they receive sunlight, appropriate water and are kept away from other heat sources during their indoors stay.

Catharine and I have shared several generations of star pine (Araucaria excelsa) for past holidays, and we have delighted in watching them grow from 2-foot-tall tabletops to 9-foot Christmas trees.

The permanence of a living tree is a “green” symbol for Christmas past, present and future.

STEVE KAWARATANI wishes everyone a great holiday. He can be reached at (949) 497-8168, or e-mail to