Posts tagged Christmas cactus

Fresh trees

The following is by Claire Smith, Linn County Master Gardener:

 

Years ago when pizza delivery was first invented, we invited another family for pizza.   We ate, and then we adults moved to the living room.  At that time, the kitchen heat source in this old house was a Ben Franklin stove.  The kids decided that they would clean up for us (a pleasant surprise!)  Several minutes later, we sensed a smell only describable as HOT.  Running into the kitchen, we discovered the kids had shoved the empty pizza boxes into the stove.  The grease had heated the chimney to a vivid red.  Yes, Virginia, vivid red!  Needless to say we were extremely lucky to have a house left to celebrate the upcoming Holidays! 

It’s getting that time of year for kids to nestle in their beds and think of Sugar Plums and numerous other Holiday pleasures.  It’s also time for families to remember one of the most important items about the holidays that we seldom consider.   Safety!  

Use “live” greenery wisely.  Be certain the garland draped on the mantle is secured adequately.  Evergreens burn like tinder.  Flames flare out of control sending sparks flying into the room and igniting creosote deposits in the chimney. 

The same holds true for those beautiful candles that you place so strategically in the evergreen centerpiece.  Do not leave lit candles unattended. 

Create a family tradition and cut down a live tree at a tree farm.  Fresh trees stay greener longer.  Fresh needles will stay on branches longer and don’t break when bent.   Trim away low branches that will impede the tree from being secured in a sturdy, water-holding stand. Keep water in the stand while the tree is indoors.  Place the tree away from any heat source:  think fire as well as drying out the tree.  If you do purchase a tree from a store or organization, cut an additional two inches off the trunk to expose fresh wood to provide better water absorption. 

For those of you using artificial trees, look for a statement stating the tree is fire resistant prior to purchasing it.  And never, never use electric lights on metallic trees.

Pet and kid proof your trees.  Thin guy-wires can secure trees to walls or ceilings and prevent curious little hands and paws from pulling or knocking   trees around.  Avoid use of extension cords.  A child or pet tangled in an extension cord could cause utter disaster in your home.

Christmas Cactus, Poinsettias, Mistletoe, Holly Berries or any other Christmas plant may cause illness in kids and pets if ingested. 

My husband used to say, “Slow down.  You move too fast.”  I’ve learned.  I took my lesson from the Christmas morning when I thought I could dry one more load of clothes before the extended family arrived and started a mischievous kitten on the ride of his life in the dryer.  Fortunately, I knew the thumping wasn’t normal and immediately rescued a very dizzy, but otherwise o.k. feline.  Common sense is the best plan.  Use it!

 

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November need-to-know

Linn County Master Gardener, Susan Long, prepared the following Q & A’s that are frequently asked of Hortline volunteers in November.

                Q:  Can I plant potted mums in my garden now for blooms next year?

                A:  Even though potted garden mums may be deemed “hardy”, they don’t over-winter well in Iowa.  The repeated freezing and thawing may heave the plants out of the ground causing damage or death.  The best protection is to not cut back any of the plant and mulch heavily with clean straw, pine needles, or evergreen branches after several hard freezes (mid to late November).  Leaves tend to mat down and don’t serve as adequate protection.  Spring is a better time to plant mums as they have the summer to establish themselves.

 

                Q:  Is it OK to prune oak trees now?

                A:  Winter (December through February) is the best time to prune oak trees in Iowa.  Pruning oak trees in winter greatly reduces the risk of an oak wilt infection.  Oak wilt is a fungal disease that is lethal to many Oaks.  It can be spread from infected trees to healthy trees by sap-feeding beetles.  Oak wilt infections occur most commonly in spring and early summer.  Pruning oak trees in winter greatly reduces the risk of an oak wilt infection as the beetles and fungal mats are not present at that time of the year.

 

                Q:  How do I get my Christmas cactus to bloom at Christmas?

                A:  Day length and temperature control the flowering of a Christmas cactus. Temperatures shouldn’t be above 70’ in the daytime with nighttime temperatures of 60-65’.   Provide your plants with bright day light, not artificial light, until mid-October.  Move the plant to an unused location after mid-October, giving your plant 14 to 16 hours of continuous darkness each day for at least 3 weeks.  Keep the soil conditions dry, watering every 7-10 days.  They don’t like to be moved, however, once buds set the plant can be moved to another location.  Your plant should start to bloom at Christmas.

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