The flower of the Christmas season is the poinsettia, a tropical plant from Mexico that changes its leaf color when the daylength changes. Poinsettias were originally noticed for their bright red color and are now available in many colors, shapes and sizes, thanks to decades of work by plant breeders. As much as we love them, caring for poinsettias during and after the holiday can be a challenge. Here are a few tips to extend the bloom for a longer period and encourage it to grow for the months to come!
Provide plenty of sunlight. A sunny window facing south is ideal. Be careful to not let the leaves touch the glass. Keep temperatures around 55-60F at night and 65-70F during the day.
Keep soil slightly moist on the surface. Wait until the surface feels dry before watering, then add just enough to soak in. If water collects below the pot, pour it out. Those decorative wrappers make it hard to tell, so be sure to check. However, don’t wait for wilting before watering as that is too dry. Both overwatering and underwatering can lead to wilting and excessive leaf drop. Check the soil each day.
Don’t fertilize while “blooming”. While the colored parts of poinsettias are actually modified leaves called bracts and the true flowers are the tiny yellow centers, we often refer to the entire non-green portion as a bloom. The plant can maintain its nutritional needs throughout the flowering time without additional fertilizer.
In the spring, cut the plant back, fertilize and move outside. Remember, poinsettias require temperatures to always stay above 60F. If we receive any cool nights, bring it in for the night. Let the rootball become quite dry throughout April. You may have to move it under a cover if the April showers are occurring every few days.
If you want to try your luck at re-blooming, re-pot it in a slightly larger container and cut it back to about 4” high in mid-May. Keep it in nearly full sun. A little shading in the heat of the day is helpful. Water consistently and fertilize every two weeks with a water-soluble, complete fertilizer. As it grows, you will need to pinch the plant back every six weeks or so until October, I usually remove about half of the stem that has grown out. To get coloration in time for Christmas, find something dark to cover the plant or move it to a dark location each day. The poinsettia must be in complete darkness from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. until the leaves start to turn color, usually 10 weeks. That means moving or covering and uncovering at the same time every day. Any deviation will delay the color change. Once you see a complete set of leaves coloring, the plant can be exposed to regular daylengths. If this sounds like too much work, spent poinsettias do make good compost and garden centers will be happy to sell you a new one!
Remember, poinsettia sap does contain a latex-like chemical that can cause allergic reactions. Small animals, young children, and adults with allergies should not handle poinsettias. If eaten, get medical attention immediately.
The shorter days and cooler temperatures of autumn bring on changes in our shrubs and trees.
Most people expect to see changes in leaf color in deciduous trees and shrubs during fall. But some people become concerned when the leaves on certain evergreen plants begin to turn yellow with the change in the seasons. For many plants this is normal.
Azaleas may lose a few leaves now. These are the older leaves on the branches near the center of the plant. There is no need for alarm by the loss of a few older azalea leaves from now until spring. However, if the younger leaves, those nearest the tip of the shoot, turn yellow or brown there is cause for concern. Poor drainage, lack of water or alkaline soils may cause this condition. Be sure to keep azaleas and other ornamental plants well-watered during dry weather that may occur from now through spring.
Other plants such as gardenias, hollies and camellias may have yellowing leaves now. But as with azaleas, these are the older leaves on the stem near the center of the plant. The mature leaves will drop from the plant from now until spring. This is only the normal aging of older leaves. However, be careful to not confuse this normal process with spider mites, scale, lace bugs, nutrient deficiencies, poor growing conditions or salt injury. Just keep in mind that this normal change in leaf color and leaf drop occurs on the older leaves generally during cooler weather – it’s a seasonal change.
The leaves of sycamore trees have changed from green to brown by now. Although the sycamore is a deciduous tree, this phenomenon may not be caused by a change in day length or temperature alone. This change in leaf color in sycamores can begin in late summer. Many times, it is the result of sycamore lace bugs feeding on the leaves. By the time the damage is visible, there is little that can be done to correct the problem. However, this problem will take care of itself since sycamore trees will soon be dropping their leaves.
We do have some trees that exhibit beautiful fall foliage this time of year. A few to consider include hickory and gingko for their bright yellow fall foliage, black gum for its early display of brilliant red, purple or orange leaves and Chinese pistache for its late reddish-orange fall show. There are plenty of other good trees to consider for fall color here in North Florida such as dogwood, crape myrtle, Florida maple, sourwood, shumard oak and the list could continue.
Do any of the leaves change color down here in the fall? The most common answer is that there is none here in the land of evergreens. The prevalence of oaks (Quercus spp.) and pines (Pinus spp.) see to that. There is hope. Deciduous trees put on a show as the need for photosynthesis reduces. Chlorophyll production stops replaced with anthocyanins and carotenoids. As they take over, the beautiful display we all love begins. Several tree species thrive in the panhandle and have great autumn foliage. Once you know which, you’ll see a color pallet that would make DaVinci himself drool.
Tree for all seasons
Sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is a larger tree growing upwards of 75 feet tall with a 50 foot spread. The canopy has an early conical shape which evolves into an oval as the tree ages. This tree is excellent for local parks and to provide shade in your front yard. Red tinged flowers produced in spring combined with multi-shaded leaves provide interest throughout the year. However, autumn this tree comes into its own. As the days shorten and cool these leaves begin their journey to the ground by taking on shades of yellow, orange, red, or burgundy.
A unique tree growing primarily in the Panhandle, the Florida maple (Acer floridanum) puts on an excellent autumn show. At that time of year, the leaves will change to a muted yellow or orange color. Reaching 60 feet high and 30 wide this oval canopied tree is ideal for shade or along streets. Fall is the only time you will see color changes from this tree, but in summer you’ll be treated to that classic maple leaf shape.
An Oddity of a Tree
The bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) is a tree rife with oddity. Growing at times as high as 80 feet with a roughly 35 foot spread these trees excel in your lawn. Be wary as when grown in wet environments they develop “knees” thought to help aerate roots in standing water. Ball shaped cones are the primary reproductive organs of this tree. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the color changing needles. When winter is nigh, they change from pale green to an eye catching yellow or rusty copper. One of the few deciduous conifers, the needles will fall off revealing peeled bark for winter interest.
To Sum it Up
These are but a few of the trees in north Florida known to change color in the autumn. The list is not overly exhaustive, but there are several in this category. For more information on landscape trees, see this Ask IFAS document, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.
In Florida, selecting the right plant for a sometimes-shady spot can be tough. Generally, plants that can handle the stress of even a few hours of direct summer sun are considered “full-sun” plants. Many plants that are recommended for “partial shade” either don’t flower as well in shade as they would in sun or have a weak constitution and wilt with any direct sunlight. For these problematic, sometimes shady, sometimes not spots, the plant Crossandra (Crossandra infundibuliformis) can be perfect!
Crossandra is a tender perennial (or annual depending on how cold our winters get) native to India and Sri Lanka and closely related to Shrimp Plant and Mexican Petunia. Growing slowly to about 3’ in height, clad with deep, dark, glossy leaves that remind me of the Coffee plant, and flaunting vivid orange flowers, Crossandra plants certainly lend a unique, tropical look to landscapes. Like its more well-known cousins, Crossandra can grow in full shade but really thrives with 3-4 hours of direct sun daily and lots of heat and humidity. These characteristics make the species the perfect summertime Panhandle porch plant!
Adding to the list of accolades, Crossandra is also super simple to grow! Apply a slow-release starter fertilizer at planting, supplement monthly after that with a general-purpose garden fertilizer, water regularly, and enjoy stunning orange flowers all summer! As a bonus, if you’re a fan of the University of Florida, put Crossandra in a Gator blue pot and have the most festive porch around just in time for football season to kick off in a few weeks!
It seems like every time I pick up a home and garden type magazine, the cover photo is dotted with flowering orchids and indoor foliage plants that are inevitably in pristine condition. However, years of experience troubleshooting issues with both my own interior plants and those for clients tell a different story. All too often, indoor potted plants languish for years, barely alive, until they finally succumb. I’ve taken several to the plant graveyard just past the edge of the back yard because of this exact scenario. In recent times though, I’ve figured out a way to mostly avoid pitiful looking indoor plants – take them outside in the warm months!
To appreciate the perks of getting your indoor plants outdoors, it’s helpful to first think about why most interior situations aren’t very conducive to plant growth. There are three primary reasons houseplants fail: not enough light, improper watering, and low humidity. Most plant species grown for interiorscapes hail from the tropics where they grow in the understory of large trees, receive bright, filtered sunlight, and experience abundant moisture and humidity. These conditions are VERY hard to mimic in the typical American house unless you huddle all your plants near windows, take steps to increase humidity (which doesn’t play super well with furniture and other household items), and really tune in your watering. Taking indoor plants outside to play in the Panhandle summers just really makes the whole situation much easier!
A Jade Plant that had languished indoors during the winter beginning to perk up outside! Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
Now that you’ve made the decision to move your indoor plants out, figuring out where to site them is the next step. I’ve found that, with few exceptions, houseplants prefer to be in a bright area but away from direct sunlight – under mature trees, on a covered porch, anywhere that doesn’t get direct sunlight will do! It is also a great idea to place plants near a watering source. If a hose doesn’t easily reach the spot or it’s inconvenient to tote a watering can to them, your plants won’t get watered regularly and will suffer. You’ll be surprised how much water plants use when they’re in conditions conducive to growth so be sure to check pots every couple of days to prevent droughty conditions! Once in these new and improved growing conditions, your houseplants will also respond very well to a little extra fertilizer. A good general prescription is a topdressing of a slow-release fertilizer using the recommended label rate as soon as you bring them outside and following that up once each month with a supplemental liquid fertilizer.
Keeping houseplants happy in the Florida summer is easy and begins with getting them outside. Find a spot with bright, indirect light, keep them watered well, add a little fertilizer, and watch them grow like they never have before! For more information on growing houseplants or any other horticultural or agricultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office. Happy gardening!
If you enjoy a walk in some of the Panhandle’s naturally wooded areas you often come across many selections of ferns. One of my favorites to come across is the cinnamon fern, Osmundastrum cinnamomeum.
Green fronds are pinnately compound. Fertile fronds with spores emerge in the center. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
This clumping fern grows to about 2-3 feet in height. It can be larger when there is ample moisture. In the spring, it forms fertile fronds in the center that are reddish-brown in color. The sterile leaves emerge from the base of the plant to form large leaves about 2 feet in length. Leaves will be green most of the year, depending on available moisture, and can offer some fall color as they die back.
A shaded portion of my backyard has four well established cinnamon ferns. I was able to purchase these from a nursery about 20 years ago. Even without moist soils on my property, the ferns do well with average rainfall.
My favorite season for the cinnamon fern is the spring with the contrasting colors of the sterile and fertile leaves. The plants make an attractive display, mixed with ground orchids, toad lily, and the leaf mulch from the live oak tree.
Coarse texture of the ground orchids blend well with the fine textured leaves of the cinnamon fern. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
Plan your area carefully if you want to add cinnamon fern since there will not be foliage present in the winter months. Blending these plants with some evergreens creates a low maintenance spot in a shady portion of your landscape.