Gardening Tips: December 12, 2012
OK, I’ll admit it. For the past three weeks while you have been shivering in the cold Northeast, I have basking in the warm Florida sunshine. Actually I have also been in North Carolina and Pennsylvania for a few days, but certainly not in upstate New York.
My kids and grandkids all live down here and it has been more than a pleasure to spend some time with them while indulging my serious fishing addiction. I even got to go to Disney world for the first time. It was nice to see the lovely landscape and other ornamental plantings featured at Disney as well as all the wildly decorated palms that serve as the local outdoor Christmas trees.
Floridians must all originally be from the north because they seem to take this holiday decoration business very seriously. Disney featured a beautiful Christmas light display and they even provided a “snowstorm” of tiny white confetti.
My grandkids have never actually seen real snow and I would like to share that with them someday while they can still enjoy the pure beauty that it provides, before they become jaded like their Grand Bob. I sadly admit that I have lost most of my affection for snow and for cold weather in general.
One of the wild plants I have observed in many locations here is a native poinsettia that bears very little resemblance to the beautiful ones that are for sale now. I am not sure if this is due to them being a different species or whether it is just the result of some serious plant breeding.
This plant gets its name from Joel Poinsett, an ambassador to Mexico, who is credited with introducing them to the upper U.S. The red bracts, which top the native plant, are narrow and tiny but they are just as crimson as the ones that you will purchase. Of course poinsettias now come in many other shades of red, pink, yellow, speckled, and even white. The lobby of the hotel I stayed in at Disney had a huge Christmas tree comprised entirely of white poinsettias.
Not too many years ago most holiday gift plants, especially poinsettias, did not last very long after they were brought home. Today’s plants are much tougher and many poinsettias sold this month will still look quite spectacular in March or even April if given a little care. Contrary to popular belief Poinsettias are not poisonous so you need not worry about someone (or your cat or dog) getting sick from chewing on the leaves.
Poinsettias will do best if kept by a bright, sunny, unobstructed south or southwest-facing window. It is important to keep them out of either cold or hot drafts. Allow the soil surface to dry out to a depth of a half-inch (insert thumb to test for moisture) before watering. Water as needed and apply a very dilute dose of liquid houseplant fertilizer once a month. Poinsettias require lots of fertilizer to produce their huge bracts, but not in the winter after they are in full bloom. Do not cut off the colored bracts unless you want to trigger the plant into putting out new growth.
If you cut the plant back, it will sprout new growth. This new growth needs more light then we can realistically provide indoor during the winter so leave the pretty bracts alone until they fall off on their own. By April you can cut the plant back and it will sprout new growth. By May our longer days will allow some new growth indoors but the plant really wants to be outside in full sun and that must wait until June.