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‘Tis the day after Christmas, and all through the house is, well, a mess. The tree is looking a little crispy—and the holiday expiration date on that foil-wrapped grocery store poinsettia is fast approaching. There are piles of gift boxes and wrapping paper. And what to do with that untouched fruitcake?

You could haul all of it out to the curb. But a little thought and effort can help make the post-holiday season a green one.

Plants Sprout Again
Start with the poinsettia: contrary to what you may have heard, it’s not that difficult to keep the plant growing, or even get it to bloom next holiday season. “I grew up in the Ninth Ward, and my mother had a poinsettia that was one-story high,” says Patrick Youngblood, rosarian at the New Orleans Botanical Garden in City Park. As for those guides that say you must sequester the plants in total darkness for several hours a day to get them to bloom, Youngblood says, “I don’t know anybody who’s ever done that, and they bloom just fine.”

After the holidays, he says, let the poinsettia dry out a bit. When the flowering stems have started to shrivel, cut them back to within four to six inches from the soil. Be patient: poinsettias enter a dormant period in winter, but start growing again in spring. If you keep the plant indoors, protect the soil from central heat-induced drying. Once the danger of freezing has passed, the poinsettia can be repotted and placed outdoors or replanted in a bed, preferably a well-drained one that gets six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. They’re not the toughest of plants, Youngblood says, so choose a spot that offers some protection from wind.
One other myth dispelled: poinsettias are not poisonous. Some people may react to their milky sap, but in general, they pose no risk to humans or pets.

Many of the rules for poinsettia care apply to another holiday favorite, the Christmas cactus, or Zygocactus, a spiny-leafed tropical plant that produces an annual display of vibrant pink flowers. Christmas cacti will thrive indoors if they’re kept in a sunny spot, well drained and away from heating vents. Keep the soil moist during the summer months, but to encourage holiday blooming, withhold water during October, gradually increasing water, but not soaking the plant, as the season nears. If kept indoors in a dry environment, it’s a good idea to let potted poinsettias and Christmas cacti rest on a bed of moistened pebbles.

More problematic are miniature trees, such as spruces, sold as “living” Christmas trees. “A lot of these plants are simply not suited to our climate,” Youngblood says, although with proper care they can survive indoors throughout the year. “You can at least take care of it until it does what it’s going to do,” he says.

Christmas Tree Recycling
Several years ago, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources launched a much-heralded campaign to recycle discarded Christmas trees by using them to create sediment-trapping “fences” to help shore up the state’s vanishing wetlands. The program is still in effect, says coastal scientist Keith Lovell, but it is up to individual parishes participating in the program to determine when the trees are picked up and where they are put to use. In past years, Orleans Parish has used the trees in projects at Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge. Although Hurricane Katrina derailed the local program last season, Lovell expects New Orleans to resume the drive this year. Keep an eye out for instructions from city officials later this month.

Where the Rest Can Go
Look also for ways to recycle the rest of your holiday detritus. Organic garland, for example, can go straight from the mantel into the compost pile. If it’s held together with hemp twine, that can go into the compost as well, but wire should be removed. Leftover wine bottles? Soak the labels off, then take the glass—preferably clear glass—to the marked bins outside Tulane University’s Newcomb School of Art, where glassmaking students can give it new life. Get a new personal electronic device in your stocking? Unwanted cell phones, MP3 players and personal computers can be donated to the Green Project in New Orleans or the nonprofit Capital Area Corporate Recycling Council in Baton Rouge. Both organizations will make sure the donated items get new homes or, if unsalvageable, that they will be dismantled and the environmentally hazardous parts disposed
of properly.

As for that fruitcake, see “compost pile” above.

With the city of New Orleans’ recycling program on indefinite hiatus, several local organizations have stepped up to the plate:

Building materials, aluminum cans and some electronics
Although The Green Project (2831 Marais St., 945-0240) is focused on recycling paint and building materials, the organization also accepts aluminum cans and some household electronics, including computers, printers, MP3 players and cell phones. Capital Area Corporate Recycling Council (800 St. Philip St., Baton Rouge, 225/379-3577) takes similar electronic items.

Newspapers and Magazines
Our Lady of Good Counsel Church (1307 Louisiana Ave., 891-1906) has a drop box for newspapers, phone books and magazines.

Aluminum cans, Newspapers and Magazines
Academy of the Sacred Heart’s middle school (4521 St. Charles Ave., 891-1943) accepts aluminum cans for recycling, with the proceeds going to the Locks of Love program. The school also sponsors a monthly paper drive, when newspapers and magazines can be delivered to the Uptown campus.

Alkaline batteries can be dropped off for proper disposal at the City Sanitation department’s transfer station, 2829 Elysian Fields.

Cell Phones, Inkjet Cartridges, Plastic Bags
Both area Whole Foods Markets (5600 Magazine St.; 3420 Veterans Blvd., Metairie) accept discarded cell phones, empty inkjet cartridges and plastic grocery bags for recycling.

Recycling Guide
The Tulane Office of Environmental Affairs and the Green Project have put together an extensive recycling guide that lists many more drop-off locations, along with contact information. It’s available online at http://recycle.tulane.edu/NO_recycling_guide.pdf.

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