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How to keep a holiday topiary alive

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Topiaries are charming, but keeping them alive can be problematic

When we think about “decking the halls” for the holiday season, most of us envision traditional greenery such as boughs of holly, evergreen wreaths, and fragrant firs or pine trees.

But in recent years, herbal ornamentals and topiaries have become bright new stars in the holiday decorating line-up.  

Now that the holidays are around the corner, you’ll be seeing them everywhere from grocery stores to upscale catalogs.  And it’s difficult to resist fragrant rosemary shaped like a mini Christmas tree or an ivy wreath.

The problem is, not many of us can keep these appealing plants alive long enough to ring in the New Year.

Many topiaries die of thirst

According to experts, topiaries and other ornamentals are quite often doomed from the moment they arrive in the mail or come home from the store. Problem is, they can dry out and begin dying before you even know there is a problem.

When you receive your topiary, examine the first inch of soil to see if it is wet or dry. Better yet, pop the plant out of its pot and give the roots a close look.  If they appear parched, water the plant thoroughly, then check daily to see if the surface of the soil is dry. Most of these ornamentals need a drink at least every three days.

Ivy topiaries and other plants growing on frames stuffed with sphagnum moss also need to be watered regularly. In fact, if they are allowed to dry out to the point of wilting, the plants probably won’t bounce back. 

Immerse a new, stuffed topiary in a tub or large bucket of water and hold it there until the water stops bubbling. Then move it to a waterproof spot until it stops dripping. Finally, place it on a piece of clear plastic where you want it to grow.

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