Caring for Holiday Plants
It's not just the holiday decorations that are brought out earlier and earlier every year, so, too, are the holiday plants, such as poinsettias and azaleas. The result is that these plants have to stay nice looking for longer than ever, so proper care is critical. If you keep them in the foil-covered pot, poke a hole in the foil for drainage and set the plant on in a saucer. Often, these plants are rootbound, so check soil moisture frequently and keep it evenly moist. Bright, indirect light is best, and avoid placing plants near drafts, either from heat ducts or exterior doors. Conserve energy and keep the plants healthy by turning the thermostat down to 68 degrees F.
Prepare for Living Christmas Tree
Create great memories and a more beautiful yard by having a living Christmas tree each year and adding it to the landscape. Since the ground may be frozen by the time you're ready to plant the tree after Christmas is over (live trees shouldn't be kept indoors more than a week), prepare the planting site while the soil is still easy to dig. Evergreen Christmas trees are usually sold balled-and-burlapped, with the ball about 2 feet in diameter. Prepare a hole about 3 feet in diameter and 18 inches deep and fill it with leaves. Cover the soil removed from the hole with a tarpaulin.
Protect Young Tree Trunks
Young trees, especially ones planted this year, need some extra wintertime TLC for the best chance of success. Fluctuating day and nighttime temperatures can lead to a condition called sunscald, which damages the trunk. Protecting the trunk with some type of tree guard helps prevent this, as well as prevent rabbit, rodent, and mechanical damage. Although a variety of guards are available, the simplest, most economical is the white vinyl type that spirals around the trunk. Mulching around the tree is also beneficial, but keep the mulch several inches away from the trunk.
Plant Amaryllis and Paper White Narcissus
If you don't already have amaryllis bulbs, treat yourself to some, and then let the large, beautifully colored flowers provide pleasure all winter long indoors by starting one or more bulbs every two weeks. Although the flowers of paper white narcissus are pretty, too, it is the luscious fragrance that makes them a winter "must have." There are two ways to keep them from flopping over. One is to add gin or vodka to the water (http://www.hort.cornell.edu/department/faculty/wmiller/bulb/Pickling_your_Paperhwites.pdf), and the other is to plant near the bottom of a tall vase.
Control Mealybugs on African Violets
No, that isn't artificial snow on the African violets, those cottony specks on or near the crown of the plant and undersides of the leaves are leaf mealybugs. Left untreated, the plants will eventually die. First, isolate any infested plant to keep the insects from spreading. For light infestations, wipe the mealybugs with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol, then rinse plants with lukewarm water; repeat daily until pests are completely gone. For heavier infestations, try spraying with a botanical neem insecticide.