Do unto poinsettias

as you would have done unto you. Poinsettias hate cold, so never take one from the florist out into the cold without a proper wrap. Give them abundant light (indirect is best), and don't put them close to hot radiators or other heat sources. Ideal temperatures are 70 in the day, 64 at night. Keep the soil evenly moist.

(Need an ice-breaker at a holiday party? Poinsettias in manger scenes are definite anachronisms, since the plant,

Euphorbia pulcherrima

, is native to the Western Hemisphere. It was named for Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico.)

Give potted cyclamens

only to those who can stand a little nippiness. They need temperatures of 60 to 65 in the day, cooler at night, plus higher humidity than most homes have.

Consider giving

gardening friends gift certificates to nurseries or mail-order houses. In our hemisphere, December holidays occur when gardening needs are at their lowest, but come April those gifts will earn another round of thanks. Still, every gardener can use a really good trowel; get the kind with shaft and bowl of a single piece of metal.

Wash the leaves

of houseplants to remove dust, which actually reduces the light the plants need to carry on their photosynthesis thing. Giving a group of plants a tepid rinse in the shower may be more efficient than sponging individual leaves.

Finalize the scheme

for a living Christmas tree. The hole should already be dug, with fill dirt stored where it won't freeze. The tree should remain inside as short a time as you can bear, seven to 10 days. Pick the move-in date and store the tree in a cool garage or porch until then. Entice two or three strong people to be on hand to maneuver it. Place as far from heaters as possible, and keep the thermostat low. And don't let the root ball dry out.

Remedy sudden awareness

of a certain dullness in your garden now that all the leaves are down. Plan a trip to a local arboretum - a good escape from December hubbub - and take notes on which shrubs and trees have fruit, berries or other characteristics that brighten the winter landscape. Modern crabapple hybrids come in smaller and more heavily fruited varieties than the old thing at your grandmother's, and callicarpas have shocking purple-pink berries. The great twistedness of hazelnut

Corylus avellana

'Contorta' (also known as Henry Lauder's walking stick) is a standout in the snow. Staple your notes to the April page of your 2009 calendar.

- Michael Martin Mills

Next week, answers to gardening questions. Write to Michael Martin Mills, The Inquirer, Box 41705, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101 or gardenqanda@earthlink.net. Please include locale. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/michaelmartinmills.