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Originally published Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 5:00 AM

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Get fresh with your tree for best results all season | Ciscoe Morris

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris shares his secrets for a green Christmas tree and happy air plants.

Special to The Seattle Times

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In the Garden

When I was a kid, our “Charlie Brown” special dropped so many needles, it was nearly bald by Christmas morning. I’m sure that my dad bought the cheapest tree on the lot, but even an inexpensive tree can look good all season if you choose carefully and take proper care of the tree after you bring it home.

Start by choosing a fresh tree. Look for the one that is the darkest green tree of its type. Then perform the “Ciscoe thump test” (when no one is looking) by beating the base on the ground. If only a few old yellow needles fall off, the tree is probably fresh, but if lots of green needles fall off, pick a different tree.

When you arrive home with the tree, saw an inch off the base of the trunk to allow for better intake of water. Immediately submerse the base in warm water and keep the base submerged at all times. If you aren’t ready to put the tree in the house, store it in a cool shady location. Once in the house, make sure the reservoir remains full of water at all times. Try to locate the tree out of direct sunlight, and if at all possible, keep the temperature in the home no higher than 70 degrees. Your tree should look great until well past Christmas. Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out a way to keep the cat from knocking off the ornaments!

Water your air plant

Air plants (Tillandsia) make wonderful holiday gift plants. Since they don’t need soil, you can add a personal touch to your gift by nestling these attractive little plants into lava rock, driftwood, seashells or inside an ornamental globe. Pest-free, and requiring only a location in bright light out of direct sunshine, air plants should live a long time in the home, yet many barely survive the holiday. The problem is insufficient watering. Besides misting, these plants like an occasional soaking. Mist only once per week in the morning, and fertilize at the same time by adding in a pinch of orchid food in the mister. Once every two weeks, submerge your tillandsia in a bowl filled with tap water (never use distilled water) for about 2 hours. When you remove the plant from the water, gently shake off the excess water and allow it to air dry completely before returning it to its decorative holder. Remembering to give your plant its baths and showers on schedule can be difficult, but your air plant will not only remain healthy and attractive, it might even reward your efforts by producing a spectacular flower.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

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