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.
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!
Houseplants can soften up the interior of your home and help clean the air. They can also supplement your holiday decorations and help create stunning focal points. To help determine what plants do best under certain conditions and to give pointers on plant care, this month’s Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! was all about houseplants.
A spider plant on a coffee table. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS
Environmental Conditions for Houseplants
Unless you live in a glass house, you’ll probably want to choose houseplants that do well in low light conditions. A guide for what light level different houseplants prefer can be found on the Gardening Solutions Light for Houseplants page. This page also provides useful tips on supplemental lighting.
The best way to determine if your houseplants need water is your own green thumb or whatever finger you choose to stick in the potting mix, but for some interesting information on outdoor soil moisture meters check out this informative publication on soil moisture sensors.
Fungus gnats are mainly a nuisance, but some species can feed on living plant tissue. Darkwinged fungus gnats are known to feed on ferns, orchids, and geraniums.
One way to increase your houseplant population and save a few dollars is to propagate your own plants. The University of Florida/IFAS created the Plant Propagation Glossary to help with any propagation questions you may have.
Air layering is a propagation technique that not only allows the prospective plant to thrive from the nutrients of the mother plant, but it also saves space.
A moth orchid (Phalaenopsis spp.) outdoors. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS
Specific Species Info
Orchids in the genus Phalaenopsis are easier to care for than other genera of orchids. The American Orchid Society provides some great tips on caring for orchids indoors. Some people choose to water their orchids with ice cubes. The Ohio State University has a publication that provides some more insight on watering Phalaenopsis orchids with ice cubes.
A lot of cacti do well indoors. A popular cactus during the holiday season is Christmas cactus. Christmas cactus have interesting foliage, but their blooms are what people want to see. Some tips on getting your Christmas cactus to bloom on time and general care information can be found in this Christmas Cactus Preparation fact sheet.
Have you ever wanted to grow fruit trees indoors or do you want some tips on bringing containerized fruit trees indoors for the winter? The Growing Fruit Crops in Containers publication provides some good tips on growing fruit trees indoors.
Unless you have a house with a lot of windows or a sunroom, plumeria don’t make the best houseplants. They need at least six hours of sunlight per day and need to be at least three years old to bloom. If you are interested in propagating plumeria, then check out this publication on propagating plumeria from cuttings.
Potting soil, potting mix, garden soil, topsoil. The bags are all sitting side-by-side on the shelf at the garden center. Your challenge is to figure out which one you need for your project. What’s the difference? To begin with, none of them are dirt. The Soil Science Society of America defines dirt as “displaced soil”, the dead nuisance material left on your hands after working with soil. Soil is a blend of sand, silt, clay and organic matter. It is alive with nutrient and water holding components. But, all soil is not equal.
Soil contains decayed organic remains. It may be composted leaf tissue and/or microorganisms. The terms potting soil and potting mix are often used interchangeably, but there is a significant difference. Potting soil contains compost or the flora responsible for the breakdown process. Potting mix is soil-less. It is a blend of sphagnum moss, coir, bark, perlite and/or vermiculite. While these are natural occurring materials, they are in their original state. No decomposition has occurred. In the absence of compost, the resulting potting mix is sterile and free of fungus spores and insect eggs. Potting mixes are excellent choices for container growing, especially for house plants. The sphagnum moss, coir and bark hold and release water and nutrients, while the vermiculite or perlite keep the mix loose and well-drained. Some blended products add microbes, which then requires the word soil be added to the packaging. These are still suitable for potted plants.
But, if the potting soil is made from mostly compost, the potential of having poor drainage and fungus gnat problems increases substantially. The only containers these type of potting soils should be used in are raised gardens. Depending on the compost source, these soils can sour, grow mushrooms or become extremely hard.
Garden soil is a blend of soil and soilless ingredients. It can be used in very large containers (24” or greater) or added to native soils to enrich planting areas.
Then there is topsoil. It varies widely in composition and quality. Use it to fill holes in the yard, build berms or mix it will compost to increase water retention in dry garden areas.
So, when standing in the store comparing prices, don’t let price dictate your purchase. To keep your containerized plants doing well, do some bag reading. Choose the product that has aged forest products, sphagnum moss and perlite. Use the soils made from bio-solids and composted materials to improve the sand in the yard. When you’re done, go wash the dirt off your hands.
We are back with new topics and guest speakers for 2021! All sessions are Thursdays at noon CDT or 1:00 p.m. EDT.
There are two ways to join the Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! webinars:
1. Facebook Live – Follow us on Facebook and follow individual webinar Events.
2. Zoom Webinar – Pre-registration is required for Zoom. Users must have an authenticated account (free at Zoom Link). Be sure you have security settings up to date to prevent connection delays. Links to Zoom registration will be added to the topic one week before the webinar and a closed captioned recorded link to YouTube will be available approximately one week after the program. (Underlined words have active links!)