‘Tis the season for indoor trees and plants and fireside cocoa. Kansas State University horticulture expert Ward Upham has a few tips for staying safe while keeping holiday ornamentals and flowers healthy.

For many, the holidays are symbolized by the Christmas tree. Upham said those that choose a live tree to celebrate the season should look for the following signs on the trees needles to assure a healthy tree:

  • A dull, grayish-green color.
  • The needles fail to ooze pitch when broken apart and squeezed.
  • They are stiff and brittle.
  • They pull easily off the tree.

“Once you have your tree home, re-cut the trunk about one inch above the original cut,” Upham said. “This will open up clogged, water-conducting tissues. Immediately place the trunk in warm water.”

He advises locating the tree in as cool a spot as possible, and avoiding areas near fireplaces, wood-burning stoves and heat ducts. Keep the tree stand or other reservoir filled with water.

“Adding aspirin, copper pennies, soda pop, sugar and bleach to the water reservoir have not been shown to prolong the life of the tree,” Upham said, dispelling some myths on caring for Christmas trees.


Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti prefer bright, indirect light, Upham said. Too much sun, however, can cause leaves to turn yellow.

“Common household temperatures are fine for cacti,” he said. “The soil should be kept constantly moist, but not water-logged. Give these plants a light fertilization every other week until winter.”

These varieties will normally bloom until the late winter or early spring, but Upham said homeowners should continue caring for them through next fall by keeping them moist and fertilized.

“Then, next fall, stop fertilizing and give the plants only enough water so the stems do not shrivel, which encourages the formation of flower buds,” he said.


Not all firewood is created equal. “Some species of trees are able to produce much more heat per cord of wood,” Upham said.

He noted that the Kansas Forest Service has a publication that outlines the heat values per cord for many species of trees. For example, osage-orange and black locust are varieties that produce a high amount of heat, while cottonwood and willow are on the low end of the spectrum.

“Remember to obtain firewood locally,” Upham said. “Emerald Ash Borer has spread in Kansas primarily because of wood transported from areas where that has been previously found.”

Upham and his colleagues in K-State’s Department of Horticulture and Natural Resources produce a weekly Horticulture Newsletter with tips for maintaining home landscapes. The newsletter is available to view online or can be delivered by email each week.

Interested persons can also send their garden- and yard-related questions to Upham at wupham@ksu.edu, or contact your local K-State Research and Extension office.

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