90109thumbCut Christmas trees really are the way to go. There is no obligation to take care of them after Christmas. They do not need to planted out into a garden that will be too small for them as they grow. They do not need to be maintained in a pot, only to get disfigured or partially defoliated before next Christmas. They simple get removed from the home and composted or otherwise disposed of.

Potted living Christmas trees may seem like a good idea, but they are not as sustainable as they seem to be. Only the smaller and more compact types of conifers can be confined to big pots or planted into compact garden spaces. Rosemary shorn into small cones happens do well either in big pots or out in the garden, and if preferred, can be allowed to assume its natural bushy form.

Many other potted plants that are popularly brought into the home for Christmas decoration are easier to accommodate but take a bit of effort. Poinsettias are the most familiar of these. They can grow as houseplants for years, and might hold their colorful bracts for months. In mild climates, they can be planted in the garden, but will never look like they did originally. Most get discarded.

Hollies and azaleas are more sustainable, but are not as popular. Of these, hollies are the easiest. They can be planted in larger pots or directly into the garden later, when the worst of winter is over. Azaleas will eventually drop their flowers, and will likely look very distressed for a few months, but if watered regularly, can regenerate new foliage that is adapted to their new environments.

Christmas cactus happens to be a delightful houseplant regardless of the season. It will also drop its flowers, but will generate appealing pendulous foliage that cascades nicely from hanging pots. It can bloom annually, although timing of bloom is quite variable. It can do the same outside, if sheltered. Amaryllis also prefers to stay potted. It will replace its tall flower stalks with a few leaves that sustain the bulbs until dormancy next autumn, and can bloom again next winter if given a chance.


16 thoughts on “Potted Plants Are Living Things

    1. They are called ‘pot plants’ there too? I refrained from using that designation. I sort of thought that it was just a regional term.
      Happy New Year. I suppose your started about eight hours ago. Ours is still half a day away. It is just after noon here, or about ten to one.

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  1. A friend gave me a poinsettia this Christmas. So far, it still looks good, but I’m wondering where I can plant it outside come spring. I’ve never kept one in good condition to the next year, and wouldn’t have bought one, but don’t want it getting all ill and leggy on me. Your azalea story reminded me of Saul Bellow’s character in More Die of Heartbreak. He was a plant morphologist and not allowed in his wife’s office, but he was fascinated by the azalea she had there. It never dropped any leaves. Later, he found out it wasn’t real…

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    1. Poinsettias would not survive outside there! They are sensitive to frost, and even here, live only in the mildest climates near the coast. They can be grown outside in sheltered spots in the Santa Clara Valley, but often get frosted back to the roots. In San Diego, where they do well outside, they should be cut back to the roots at the end of winter anyway, just to keep them looking fluffy. They can survive as houseplants for a very long time, and may not need pruning for a very long time. However, when they get big and lanky, pruning them back is the best thing for them. That is what few people understand. They just stake them and tie them up more, until they look ridiculous with more stakes and ties than stems and leaves. As houseplants, they need a very sunny spot, particularly after getting cut back. The sap is caustic, so they should be pruned over a vinyl floor, and left there for a bit before putting them back where the sap can drip onto carpet or furniture.

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      1. That is good to know. I have seen them growing like trees in Houston, but that’s below our zone 7, so I guess I’m stuck with nursing the thing. Spring and summer I can put it outside on a sill; winter, the south and west windows may work. But now I know pruning is the trick, I will go for that. Thanks! The poinsettia thanks you as well…

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      2. Yes, it’s little now. It may be some time before it needs pruning, depending on how good the light I can give is. But it’s good to know that’s what they need when they start looking terrible.

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    1. They are VERY heavy. The cheapy small ones that do not often survive a year happen to be lightweight; but the nice blue spruce and such that actually make good potted Christmas trees are mostly grown as balled and burlaped stock in Oregon, in VERY heavy medium. No one knows why or how, but Oregon stock is grown in very dense medium full of clay.


    1. My great grandmother grew one in the ground under an eave for about as long, and perhaps even longer. It was quite unsightly, but she really liked it. It got up to the eaves and bloomed randomly.

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