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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Rosemary Christmas Trees Indoors

I looked around the web to see what was being written about keeping rosemary indoors in winter. Since lots of the Big Stores (including Home Depot and Lowes) are offering potted rosemary plants trimmed into Christmas-tree shapes, I wanted to see what the so-called “experts” are recommending.

Some of the recommendations I found on-line, are laughable. One website suggested rosemary plants indoors should be given a half cup of water every day. Another said that keeping the pot in a saucer of water was the answer. Those folks have obviously never been successful in keeping rosemary indoors (and one site even admitted to consistently failing).

I’ve kept rosemary plants indoors for over 20 years, and often buy one of the pruned rosemary holiday trees at this time of year. Here’s what I have learned that works best.

First and foremost, rosemary is not an indoor plant. It’s an evergreen shrub and has a period of winter dormancy. So if you buy one for an indoor Christmas tree, put it in the coolest room of your house. If that’s not possible, use the tree as a Christmas tree for only about 10 days.  During that time, water the plant no more than once, giving it about 1 pint of water and absolutely no fertilizer of any kind. If possible, set it outside on a porch during the daytime, then bring it back indoors for decoration at night. The goal is to keep the plant from breaking dormancy and starting to grow, which is not healthy for the plant in winter.

As soon as the Holidays are over, move the plant to an unheated room, such as a garage or an enclosed back porch. The plant is normally dormant and doesn’t grow during the winter months. Water it only every two weeks, with about 2 cups of water.

The quickest way to kill a rosemary indoors is to keep it in a warm room. The next worst thing you can do is to water it too much. Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region and you’ll find it growing in the wild in rocky soil, even clinging to the edges of rocky cliffs. Rosemaries are tough, hardy plants, easily grown, provided you observe the precautions about water and temperature.

After I’ve kept the potted rosemary indoors in the unheated room for the winter, around the first of April I take the plant out of its pot and plant it directly in the garden. This has been my successful method, as I said, for over 20 years.
Copyright©Jim Long, 2012

Monday, December 10, 2012

How Poison is Christmas?

Every year we hear warnings about how poison some of the Christmas season plants are said to be. Some of the fears have some merit, while others don’t. For example, poinsettias - stores sell these plants with a warning, “Don’t allow children or pets to eat the leaves because they are poisonous.”

The truth is, poinsettia leaves taste simply awful. Not just because the growers spray the plants with lots of chemicals to keep away insect pests, but more importantly, the sap from this plant is bitter and burns the tongue. Puppies and children aren’t likely to eat anything that tastes so bad, and current studies have shown that a toddler would have to ingest 250 poinsettia leaves to cause a serious problem. The solution? Don’t put the plants down where kids and pets can get to them.

Mistletoe also has a bad reputation. Nearly all the mistletoe you’ll find in stores is plastic, but if you were to go out into the Ozarks woodland and find your own mistletoe, here’s the scoop on that so-called, “poisonous” plant. If the white berries fall onto the floor, sweep them up. Even a few berries can be dangerous for a toddler, but if you’ve ever noticed fresh mistletoe, there aren’t many berries on a sprig of mistletoe. Solution? Pick the berries off before hanging, or sweep them up immediately when they fall.

Holly is said to have “potentially poisonous” red berries. If someone eats several, it’s true, they’ll have a reaction - vomiting. Hollies are botanically speaking, in the Ilex family of plants. That includes one variety named, Ilex vomitoria, meaning, it causes vomiting and was used by doctors in the 1800s to induce vomiting, believed as a cure. One berry, eaten by a kid or pet, isn’t likely to cause problems, but 20 berries could be fatal to a small child if left untreated. The solution? sweep up the berries or keep them away from toddlers.

Bittersweet, which grows along our roadsides is also listed as poisonous. The unripe berries are the more toxic part and contain solanine which can slow heart rate and cause drowsiness and headaches. They are also quite bitter. Toddlers or small puppies could possibly taste the berries should they fall onto the floor. With roadside spraying and fence clearing, it’s not that easy to find native bittersweet any more.

Using common sense, like keeping these plants away from toddlers and puppies, is a good choice. If berries or plant parts fall on the floor, sweep them up. None of these plants are poison to the touch, none are tasty or tempting from their flavor and should be enjoyed for their color and long tradition as festive holiday plants.

Visit my garden blog: for other gardening stories. Happy holidays to all!
Ozarks Gardening; Copyright©Jim Long, 2012
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