Torture no poinsettias.

Euphorbia pulcherrima

(the botanical name) hates cold, so never take one from the florist out into the cold without a wrapping. Give it abundant indirect light and keep away from radiators or other heat sources. Ideal temperatures are 70 in the day, 64 at night. Keep the soil evenly moist.

Make shopping for gardening friends

easier on yourself by opting for gift certificates to nurseries or mail-order houses. In our clime, December holidays occur when gardening needs are at their lowest - but come April, those gifts will earn another round of thanks.

Give potted cyclamens

only to folks who don't crank up the furnace. Cyclamens need temperatures of 60 to 65 in the day, cooler at night, plus higher humidity than most heated homes have.

Take proper steps

with a living Christmas tree so that it actually grows and thrives when planted outdoors. The hole should be dug now (digging frozen soil later is folly); maximum 24 inches deep, covered to keep water out. Store the soil where it won't freeze.

The tree should remain inside as short a time as you can bear, seven to 10 days maximum. Keep it in a cool garage or porch until the last minute. Strong people will be needed to maneuver it - root balls are very heavy. Place as far from heaters as possible and keep the thermostat low. Don't let the root ball dry out.

Prune needle evergreens

, hollies and Southern magnolias for wreaths and garlands, but leave buddleia (butterfly bush) and caryopteris unpruned for the winter (if stems are in the way, shortening them is OK). To enhance winter survival, wait till spring to cut to eight inches tall. Roses may have been tricked into sprouting by the goofball autumn; do nothing till late winter.

Wash the leaves of houseplants

to remove dust, which reduces the light the plants need to carry on their photosynthesis thing.

Escape December mania

by visiting a local arboretum. The absence of leaves and low angle of the sun create entirely new ways to appreciate the plant kingdom. You'll also get ideas for prodigious ornamental grasses and berry-laden shrubs to liven your winter garden (the shocking pink-purple berries of callicarpas will surely make you smile). Take notes and staple them to the April page of your 2008 calendar.

- Michael Martin Mills