Poinsettia Care

Poinsettia Care

A beautiful poinsettia plant.

A beautiful poinsettia plant. Photo Credit: Tyler Jones, University of Florida

It’s Christmastime and time to pull your poinsettias out of the closet. Oh, you don’t have poinsettias left over from Christmas’ past? Well, if you follow some simple steps then you may be enjoying this year’s crop for years to come. But first, let’s go over a few fun poinsettia facts.

Poinsettia Facts

  • The distinctive, colorful part of the poinsettia is not its flower but its petal-like leaves, botanically known as bracts. Bract color varies from red to pink, white, marble, orange, and even purple.
  • The poinsettia is native to Mexico. The poinsettia got it’s name from the botanist and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, who introduced the plant to the U.S. in 1825.
  • Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous to people or pets, however their milky sap can cause an allergic reaction in some individuals.

Care

With proper care, your poinsettias may stay colorful for many months. Poinsettias can retain their color until March if they are not exposed to freezing temperatures.

  • Location. Poinsettias grow best in well-lit areas, but direct sun or hot lights can dry out the plants.  They need at least 6 hours of indirect sunlight each day.
  • Temperature. Keep your poinsettias away from drafts and chilly air. Room temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit are best.
  • Watering. Water your poinsettia when the surface of the soil is dry to the touch. Place a saucer under the pot, and drain the saucer if water starts to collect in it. Keep the soil from getting soggy. Too much water can kill a poinsettia.
  • Humidity. Gently spray the plants with a mist sprayer or place them on gravel trays. Slightly humid air will help prolong color and life span.
  • Fertilization. Lightly fertilize the plants every 4 to 6 weeks. High levels of fertilizer will reduce the quality of the plant.
  • Storage/Recycling. When the leaves and bracts begin to fall off (usually in April), cut the plant back and give it sun, water, and fertilizer regularly. Starting in October, place the plant in complete darkness for 14 hours each day and in bright light the rest of the day.  In December, your plant will begin to develop those beautiful, colorful bracts again.

Cut Flowers

Poinsettias may be used as cut flowers, but the stems must be treated right away. The milky sap must thicken inside the stems to prevent the plants from wilting.

Immediately after cutting, dunk the cut ends of the stems in almost boiling water for about one minute and then immediately place them in cool water. Keep the flowers away from the steam to prevent them from being damaged. Another method is singeing the cut ends of the stems with a flame for a few seconds and then placing the stems in cool water.

After the stems have been treated and placed in water, store the poinsettias in a cool place for at least eighteen to twenty-four hours before they are used in arrangements. Cut several more stems than you need, because not all flowers/bracts will survive.

 

Do Your Plants have Problems?

Do Your Plants have Problems?

When you don’t know what’s ailing your plant, ask an expert.

 

Many gardeners get stumped when a favorite plant of theirs comes down with a strange “something”. Many of these gardeners know about UF/IFAS Extension and call their local horticulture and agriculture agents for assistance in figuring out what’s going on. However, even these experts are often stumped by what they see. Fortunately, the agents have another layer of experts to fall back on. In addition to the resources in Gainesville, we have the Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic, located at the North Florida Research Center in Quincy. Plant pathologists here can help determine what fungus, bacteria, virus, or viroid may be the problem.

 

Plant pathologists are basically plant doctors. They use all sorts of sophisticated techniques to determine what is the cause of a particular plant problem, from growing out fungal spores to examining DNA. Not only do these plant doctors tell us what the ailment is, they also provide recommended cures, or control options. They are also doing research to prevent different diseases from taking hold in our area and reduce the impact on our local growers.

 

Plant pathologist at work!

 

At a recent workshop in Quincy, we learned that plant pathology researchers are working on a fungus that affects watermelons, virus and bacteria that can wipe out a farmer’s tomato crop, and a virus that could impact our local roses. Working as a team of scientists, they study these pathogens in the lab and conduct controlled field experiments to figure out which techniques are most effective. Some of this research is leading to different methods and/or products that can help growers and gardeners alike keep their fields and landscapes healthy.

 

So, if your plants have problems, please contact your local Extension Office. If they don’t know the answer, then the network of scientists, including plant pathologists, in the UF/IFAS Extension family can be called on for backup to provide you with the best possible answer.

Recycle By Cleaning Your Container Pots

Recycle By Cleaning Your Container Pots

Most likely, we all have them-garden pots. These typically are made of plastic, clay or wood. Garden pots should be sanitized if they were previously used or if they exhibit signs of mold or fungal growth. Whether they are used as garden boxes, planters, or hanging baskets, the surfaces of garden pots can harbor disease organisms, along with unsightly stains and mineral salts deposits. Salts from hard water and fertilizers can leach though clay pots leaving a white film on the pot’s outer surface. Salts accumulation can become flaky and encrusted around the rim and drainage holes of plastic and clay containers. 

Mold or fungal growth on an unglazed terra cotta (clay) pot Photo Credits: Alex Bolques, FAMU Research

Mold or fungal growth on an unglazed terra-cotta (clay) pot Photo Credits: Alex Bolques, FAMU Research

 

To clean clay or plastic containers, use a brush or fine steel wool to remove dirt and debris and wash with a liquid soap detergent. If stains persist, consider using a 50:50 solution of water and vinegar. To sterilize clay or plastic pots, soak them in a mild solution of bleach, 1:10 bleach to water, for about 30 minutes. Then, immerse them in clean water and allow them to dry completely. Containers made of wood are different. If the timber that they are made of is not treated properly, they tend to rot and can harbor disease spores or bacteria. It is best to replace these as they show signs of wear or deterioration. Sanitizing your garden pots will help you avoid unwanted disease problems and unsightly garden container pots.

 

Keep Your Love Alive: Preserving Cut Flowers

Keep Your Love Alive: Preserving Cut Flowers

Valentine’s Day has come and gone. You were likely showered with gifts from loved ones; gifts covered in chocolate, gifts of the stuffed variety, and more than likely the kind covered in petals. And as you languish in the afterglow of affection it would be wise to remember that your bouquets will need to be shown some affection if you intend for them to remain beautiful.

White Rose. Photo Courtesy David Marshall.

Duchesse de Brabant, Tea Rose. Photo Courtesy David Marshall.

Fresh cut flowers are a popular gift for Valentine’s Day and a simple, yet elegant way to relay your affections. Flowers have the capacity to brighten up a room and bring a smile to your face. The myriad of colors and scents are admittedly irresistible. However, after a few days your once overflowing vase may seem wilted and despondent. Follow these easy steps to increase the lifespan of your flowers and extend their potent powers!

Pink Rose. Photo Courtesy David Marshall.

Carefree Beauty, Shrub Rose. Photo Courtesy David Marshall.

  • Re-cut the flower stems using a sharp knife or shears. Remove at least one-half inch of stem to expose a fresh surface. Stems, especially rose stems, should be re-cut under water. A freshly cut stem absorbs water freely, so it is important to cut at a slant to avoid crushing the stem and to prevent a flat-cut end from resting on the bottom of the vase.
  • Put flowers in water as soon as possible. Maximum water uptake occurs in the first 36 to 48 hours after cutting flowers. Place stems in 100-110°F (38-40°C) water, because warm water moves into the stem more quickly and easily than cold water.
  • Make sure to remove any leaves from the stem that may be submerged. Because transpiration through leaves drives water flow up the stems of cut flowers, don’t strip all the leaves from the stem.
  • Use a commercial flower food, they work best at controlling microbial populations, hydrating stems, and feeding flowers. Make sure you follow the directions on the floral preservative packet. 
  • Removing thorns from your roses may shorten their vase life. If damaged during the removal process flowers may be opened up to microbes that could slow down water conducting cells.
  • If your vase solution begins to become cloudy, re-cut the stems and place into a new vase solution.
  • Do not place flowers in direct sunlight, over a radiator, or on a television set. Heat reduces flower life since flower aging occurs more rapidly in high temperature conditions. It is important to avoid all drafty locations because warm or moving air removes water from flowers faster than it can be absorbed through the stems.
  • Keep flowers away from cigarette smoke and ripening fruit, because they contain ethylene gas, which is harmful to flowers.
Red Rose. Photo Courtesy David Marshall.

Louis Philippe, China Rose. Also known as the “old Florida rose” since it is found at many old historic Florida home sites and pioneer settlements. Photo Courtesy David Marshall.

Poinsettia Do’s and Don’ts

Poinsettia Do’s and Don’ts

Poinsettias are one of the most popular plants during the Holiday Season. Poinsettias grow as shrubs in their native southern Mexico but have been bred to become compact, bushy plants perfect as container ornamentals. The showy “flowers” of poinsettias are actually modified leaves called bracts. Usually red in color, modern poinsettia breeding created showy bracts ranging in color from red to pink to white to orange, with lots of variegations and different leaf coloration patterns and sizes. The true flowers on poinsettias are the small green and yellow parts located in the center of each group of bracts.

Photo credit: Tyler Jones UF/IFAS.

Photo credit: Tyler Jones UF/IFAS.

Here are some do’s and don’ts to ensure that your poinsettias stay beautiful through the holidays and beyond:

  • Do choose plants with true flowers that are greenish. Plants with unopened or newly opened flowers will last longer than those already sporting true flowers dusted with yellow pollen.
  • Do choose plants that are bushy and leafy. Plants that have lost their lower leaves usually indicate the plant was mishandled and may decline quickly.
  • Do place poinsettias in an area with bright light but not direct sunlight.
  • Do keep poinsettias away from children and pets. Poinsettias are not poisonous but still might cause skin irritation and upset stomachs. People allergic to latex should be aware poinsettia sap contains latex-like materials.
  • Don’t overwater poinsettias. Only water poinsettias when the top of the soil is dry, and let excess water drain away. Remove the poinsettia from the decorative foil wrapping to allow water to drain out.
  • Don’t expose poinsettias to temperature extremes or drafty areas. Poinsettias like the same temperatures as people, so keep them away from cold (temperatures below 50) or heat (temperatures above 80).

After the holidays are over, you can plant poinsettias outdoors. For more information see:

Enjoy Your Poinsettias After the Holidays

In the meantime, enjoy your beautiful poinsettias and Happy Holidays!

 

Evergreens for Holiday Decorating

Evergreens for Holiday Decorating

Now that we’ve all been stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey, it’s time to transition into the final and, arguably, most ornate holidays of the year. Right now you can hear your mantles and door frames crying out to be adorned. Your windows are begging for wreaths and giant red bows. And there may be a certain corner in your house that has been waiting all year for an evergreen, or two.

As we delve into the winter holidays our homes are being dressed to impress. There is nothing better than fresh foliage placed along a mantle or maybe a little mistletoe hanging from a previously unadorned beam. The scent of pine is in the air and I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get decorating.

Here is a list of a few evergreen plants that make wonderful decorations for the season. You may even find some in your own backyard! Just make sure when you are removing foliage and fruit that you do it gently, so as not to harm the plant. Make all cuts at a 45 degree angle so that water will not pool on branch tips and rot. Also, if you forcefully remove foliage from a plant you could expose the susceptible cambium layer.

Wreaths and a decorated door frame add a bit of holiday cheer to this snowy scene. Photo courtesy Taylor Vandiver.

Wreaths and a decorated door frame add a bit of holiday cheer to this snowy scene. Photo courtesy Taylor Vandiver.

Traditional

Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) – This southern staple provides foliage that will liven up any banister or door frame. After being cut from the tree it can withstand the dryer temperatures indoors for days on end. 

Hollies (Ilex spp.) – Hollies not only provide glossy green foliage, but bright red fruit that will beautifully adorn holiday arrangements and centerpieces. 

Pine/Pinecones (Pinus spp.) – Pine trees offer a wispy presence to many decorations and their cones can give structure to wreaths and mantle pieces. 

Boxwood (Buxus spp.) – Boxwoods are great for a touch of green.

Yaupon holly fruit and foliage. Photo courtesy UF/IFAS.

Yaupon holly fruit and foliage. Photo courtesy UF/IFAS.

New Ideas

Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora) (evergreen to semi-evergreen) – Abelia are not commonly thought of when making holiday arrangements, but the texture of their foliage and the myriad of colors can spice up traditional decorations. 

Aucuba (Aucuba japonica) – Aucuba offer a coarse texture that would pair well with the wispier pine foliage. Also, the gold dust variety will add a little more color to the mix.

Aspidistra (Aspidistra elatior) – Aspidistra foliage tends to feel more tropical. If you want to try a non-traditional arrangement these would work well and they can last for days provided a small amount of water. 

Aspidistra foliage that could easily be worked into a stunning arrangement.

Aspidistra foliage that could easily be worked into a stunning arrangement.

Remember that a few well placed planters can liven up even the smallest spaces. Try using a small evergreen tree or shrub such as a magnolia, cypress / false cypress or arborvitae and surround them with poinsettia or pansies. You can try a smaller planter and add in pine cones, poinsettia, grasses, etc. Also if you are celebrating this holiday season with a live Christmas tree, then don’t be afraid to ask the grower/retail center for discarded branches. These can easily be formed into a wreath or used throughout the house. And since this is Florida there’s always the option of decorating your palm tree!