Garden Variety: Spruce up your home with winter greenery

Greenery and winter-flowering plants are a great way to spruce up your home (literally) over the cold and bleak winter season and to add cheer for the holidays. The options can be overwhelming, though, and results short-lived if plant material is mistreated. The difference is in the details. Here’s a guide to popular winter greenery and plant options and how to keep them fresh and healthy all season long.


Common options for Christmas trees are fir, pine and spruce. Pines are distinguished from other evergreen species by the way their needles emerge from branches in clusters. They have 2 or more needles bundled together at each attachment point. Fir and spruce needles emerge singly from branches.

Firs are top of the line, especially noble, balsam, concolor and Douglas firs. They are shipped into Kansas from cooler climates where growing conditions are better suited for the species. Firs have strong stiff branches that can hold heavy ornaments and hold their color well.

Pines are the next most popular. Scotch pines are the variety usually grown on Kansas Christmas tree farms but are also shipped in to retailers. White pines are similar in growth habit but have very soft needles and branches. They are usually shipped in also although they can be grown here.

Spruces are less commonly available as Christmas trees because they grow more slowly than firs and pines and tend to have a larger circumference. Blue, Norway and white spruce are sometimes available, though, and are also usually shipped in, although they can be grown here.

Cedars are rarely available commercially, but you may be able to find one to cut if you have a friend with property. They grow wild and somewhat rampant and are the only evergreen native to Kansas.

For all Christmas trees, make a fresh cut an inch or more above the old one and immediately place the tree in warm water when you are ready to set it up. The fresh cut is vital to ensuring that the tree takes up water, extending its life and color in your unseasonably warm home. Check water daily and replenish as needed. Keep the tree away from extra heat sources such as fireplaces and space heaters.


Wreaths, swags, sprays, etc. are usually made from cut branches of the above-mentioned species, or from other evergreens including juniper, holly, English ivy, laurel, eucalyptus, bay and magnolia. Juniper is similar to cedar, with scale-like needles. The other mentioned species are all broad-leaved evergreens meaning that they have leaves instead of needles. Give any of these a sniff test before purchasing as some of them have stronger scents than others.

If greenery is cut from landscape plants and brought inside, place it in water immediately in a vase or sink. If greenery is purchased and not already pieced together, make fresh cuts at 45-degree angles at the base of each stem and place the greenery in water to rehydrate.

Keep greenery away from stoves, fireplaces, etc where the extra heat will dry it out more quickly. For wreaths and swags, place them on the outside of a storm door if you have one rather than between two doors where the added warmth will dry it out more quickly.

Misting greenery with water may also help extend the life. Do it daily if you have time, but even doing it a few times a week can help. Be careful not to damage surfaces behind or below the greenery with the excess moisture.

For mistletoe, keep it refrigerated until ready for use. Misting with water may also extend the life.


Poinsettias, holiday cacti and Norfolk Island pines are plants that are usually only available around the holidays.

Poinsettias should be placed in a warm, sunny location and protected from drafts and cold air. Take the wrapper off and set the plant in the sink to water. Use warm or room-temperature water, and ensure that water drains from the bottom of the pot before replacing the decorative wrapper. Allow soil to dry out before watering again. Watering frequency depends on temperature and humidity inside your home.

Holiday cacti are usually called Christmas cacti, Thanksgiving cacti, or Easter cacti. There is a lot of confusion between which species are which, but the care is the same. They need bright, indirect light and thrive on neglect. Allow soil to dry out between waterings. Then, place plants in the sink to water and ensure that water drains from the bottom of the pot before moving back to their growing location.

Norfolk Island pines need bright, indirect light. For small trees, set plants in the sink or bathtub to water, similarly to poinsettias. Allow soil to dry out between waterings. The trees may also need to be turned to keep them symmetrical, as they readily grow towards a light source.

— Jennifer Smith is a former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension and horticulturist for Lawrence Parks and Recreation.


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