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The Homeowners Column
After Christmas plants are a bargain
State Master Gardener Coordinator
After Christmas sales are everywhere with deals on sheets, shoes, TVs and holiday adornments. Search systematically and you may just find great after Christmas plant deals. Those charming plants decorated for the holidays make great year around houseplants.
Several different species of evergreens may come as decorated trees. Be sure to keep the plant label. Some such as dwarf Alberta spruce are winter hardy. They can and should be planted outside. Winter hardy evergreens need a cold dormant period.
Other decorated evergreens such as Norfolk Island pine will quickly perish at temperatures below 40 degrees F. In fact what defines certain evergreens to be good houseplants is their very nature of being tropical plants. Our house temperatures are just what the plant doctor ordered.
Norfolk Island pine resembles a traditional evergreen with tiers of wide spreading branches, perfect for small ornaments or bows. The needles are short and stiff and appear more spruce-like than pine. Despite their name Norfolk Island pines (Araucaria heterophylla) are not pines at all, but members of the Araucariaceae family.
As houseplants Norfolk Island pines grow best at cool indoor temperatures. If you keep your room temperatures in the low 60's during winter, Norfolk Island pines are a good choice for a high light area. In order to keep Norfolk's symmetrical shape slightly turn the pot every few weeks.
They are, however, unforgiving if they dry out too much, so keep them evenly moist with a good drench at least once a week. Soil should feel moist but not soggy to the touch at all times. They will show their displeasure with a multitude of brown needles.
Norfolk Island pines share a legacy of mutineers and paradise found. Norfolks are native to the tiny tropical island of Norfolk, east of Australia. The three by five mile Norfolk Island was claimed for Great Britain by Captain James Cook and was named for the Duchess of Norfolk. The island was settled in 1856 by Pitcairners, descendants of Fletcher Christian and the other mutineers from the H.M.S. Bounty. Somewhere along the line the trees made it to Great Britain and to our local garden centers.
Lemon cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa 'Goldcrest') is another great indoor evergreen. Resembling gold torches lemon cypress is very conical with a golden cast to the soft needles. Caress this one and be rewarded with a citrus scent. Lemon cypress does well with the same growing conditions as Norfolk Island pines. California dreamin'? Lemon cypress is a cultivar of Monterey cypress, native to the coastal regions of central California.
Although not a typical evergreen the herb rosemary can make a delightful fragrant houseplant. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a perennial evergreen shrub hardy to zone 7, so she is not winter hardy here. In her native Mediterranean home she can reach 6 feet tall. Containerized rosemary plants can reach a huggable size. Nothing will cheer you quicker on a dull dreary Illinois day than hugging old rosemary. She is the closest thing to catnip for people. One hug and the pungent fragrance of pine will fill the air and have you rolling on the floor in delight.
Most homes are too dry and too warm in the winter to suit rosemary. She likes it cool and moist, just like the indoor evergreens.
Another great after Christmas bargain is Christmas cactus. Most of the plants sold as Christmas cactus are actually Thanksgiving cactus. Despite their cactus name they should be kept evenly moist while in flower. High temperatures or excessive drying will cause the flowers to wilt and drop. They are great purchases even if they have already bloomed. Christmas cactus is one of the easiest holiday plants to rebloom next year, but plan on them as Thanksgiving guests. Now get shopping!