Monthly Archives: December 2019

Indoor Evergreens for Good Health

An evergreen wreath on the front door and a real tree in the family room are conventional decorations for the holiday season. So are those beautiful winter containers filled with evergreen branches sitting on the porch.

But evergreens are much more than outdoor decor.

When placed indoors the greenery adds to the holiday scenery, but it’s that fresh scent that makes them indispensable.

Just like walking in the forest and “forest bathing” are therapeutic, using evergreens indoors is beneficial, too. Evergreens give us a healthy dose of phytoncides when we take a deep breath. These wood essential oils are the same airborne chemicals that trees and other plants give off in nature.

Pine scents and forest atmospheres not only remind us of the holidays, but they benefit our health physically, mentally and physiologically, according to the Michigan State University Extension.

“Phytoncides are antimicrobial volatile compounds produced by plants for their own defenses. It is not entirely clear how those scents affect human brains and bodies, but early research suggests they reduce stress hormones and enhance white-blood activity that boosts immunity and make us less susceptible to disease.”

This season, when you can’t get to the forest for a brisk walk, consider adding fresh evergreens throughout the house. Look for enclosed spaces where people gather, like the entry way, kitchen, dining room, study, family room, bedrooms, game room and even bathrooms.

Interior designers suggest tying small bunches of fresh greens to cabinets, placing on counter tops, filling bowls of greens on desks and side tables, draping swags to top window dressings and creating indoor hanging baskets.

Evergreens for the best scent include pine, cedar, balsam and juniper. Gardeners can clip from the landscape or look for fresh and aromatic branches at garden centers. Avoid any boughs that are already dry and brittle.

Experts recommend treating indoor branches like fresh lilac stems by keeping them in water to make them last the longest.

Use a sharp knife or garden shears to cut woody stems at a 45-degree angle and split the bottoms of the stems with the back of the clippers or small hammer. Strip the foliage that will be submerged in water.

Keep greens away from direct sunlight and heat sources. Treating them with an anti-desiccant plant spray or misting daily with water will help keep the foliage on the stems.

This season, forget the scented holiday candles and use fresh fragrant pine or cedar branches to lower stress and get in the holiday spirit during this busy time of the year.

Text and images by Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Test Your Poinsettia IQ

poinsettia-458762_960_720Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are making their December debut this week. With up to 50 million plants sold annually, you are likely to give,  receive, or at the very least, encounter the plant in your daily travels this holiday season.

How much do you know about the care and history of this botanical holiday plant?

True or False? Poinsettias are highly poisonous – keep children and pets away.

Mostly false. According to the University of Illinois Extension, “A study at Ohio State University showed that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than a pound-and-a-quarter of Poinsettia leaves (500 to 600 leaves) to have any side effects. The leaves are reportedly not very tasty, so it’s highly unlikely that kids or even pets would be able to eat that many!” So, while ingestion can cause mild stomach irritation the plant is not considered highly toxic.

True or False?  The plant was brought to the U.S. in 1915 by a shopkeeper as a gift for parents who brought their children to breakfast with Santa.

False. Robert Pointset, a botanist, physician and first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico is credited with bringing the plant to the U.S. in 1848, when they were introduced at the Philadelphia Flower Show.

True or False? For longest enjoyment, select plants with tight oval bead-shaped structures, which are the actual flowers that surround the colored leaves or bracts.

True. The colored bracts, or modified leaves (commonly, but incorrectly referred to as the flower) will start to fade when the center cyathia  (flower) open and release pollen. Look for tight, spikey bead-shaped buds when selecting plants.

True or False? The Aztecs used the colorful parts of the Poinsettia to make a reddish-purple dye for clothing and believed the sap cured fevers.

True. Poinsettias were used for practical and ethnobotanical uses in ancient cultures, including coloring cloth and treating fevers.

True or False:  National Poinsettia day is October 1st, the day that plants should start receiving 12-14 hours of complete darkness in order to rebloom. 

Partially true. October 1st is the date to start giving your Poinsettia half days of complete darkness, called photoperiodism, to trigger reblooming.  But if you want to celebrate Poinsettia day (and who doesn’t?)  it is December 12th, the day Robert Poinsett died in 1851.

True or False: Poinsettias come in over 100 natural colors. 

True. Local garden centers have lots of red, pink, cream and coral varieties along with some sassy lime green, orangey-yellow cultivars and splotchy multi-colored bracts.  Mother Nature has no hand in producing the Bronco blue and sparkly grape colored varieties – these are sprayed and glittered.  There’s a poinsettia for every taste!

True or False: Allow a Poinsettia in bloom to dry out completely before watering.  

False. Poinsettias can be divas — water when soil surface is just dry to the touch so check daily, especially if the plant is in a small pot.  Leaves will droop and yellow if the plant gets too dry. Don’t let the plant sit in water and keep it away from cold and drafts. Ideal temperature is between 65-70 degrees and there is no need to fertilize when in bloom.

Which is the correct pronunciation Poin-set-ah  or Poin-set-ee-ah?

Either way is correct!

Check back next month for tips on coaxing your poinsettia to bloom next year. It’s a good challenge for indoor plant collectors.

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener
Photo courtesy of Pixabay,  a source for royalty free photography