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LIFE: Preserving your poinsettia (Jan. 2021)

January 27th, 2021 · No Comments

Gardening resolution for the new year

In May 2020, the Annex Gleaner celebrated 25 years of publishing. In acknowledgement of this history we are offering timely highlights of our past; this feature Preserving your poinsettia is from January 2006. 

By Sarah Brierley

Here are some realistic resolutions you may actually have a hope of keeping!

1. Dust the leaf surface of your indoor houseplants. Perk up their air -cleaning capabilities by de-clogging their dusty pores with a damp cloth. Exfoliation takes on a whole new meaning!

2. Mist your houseplants — especially in winter’s dry crackling indoors weekly, or even daily if you can remember. This is an important pre-emptive strike against spider mites. Symptoms that you’ve already got the little visitors: top of leaves have yellow blotches, and tend to drop off; white webbing detected on branches. Give the plants a brick showering and swabbing down in the bathtub for exorcism. 

3. Re-pot your houseplants (unless they are the types that like being root-bound).

4. Save those holiday-gift amaryllis bulbs for re-blooming. Who wouldn’t want to give these sparklers a second chance? (“Amaryllis” is a Greek word for sparkling) After blooming, remove the blooming stem to prevent it from draining the plant’s energy by trying to form a seed. Move to a sunny location and continue to water. The leaves are creating and storing food to power next year’s blossom. 

When the leaves start to turn yellow (hopefully around the autumn), it is time to store it in a cool, dry, TOTALLY dark place and ignore it for eight weeks. (I’ve heard stories of amaryllis bulbs bundled into disused basement ovens) Seriously, it is like a souffle- you’ll upset the whole process if the bulb senses a peep of light too early. 

After its eight-week hibernation, re-pot in fresh indoor potting soil with a bit of bone meal, and bring back to the light. Water as before. 

Non-blooming is an indication that the bulb wasn’t dormant long enough, or that that the storage and forcing temperatures were too high. Bulbs that had four or more healthy leaves during the summer should have enough oomph to flower; those with less foliage may not flower. However, with time they can be coaxed into re-blooming in future years. 

5. A bit of a challenge, but might as well give it a good green try: re-blooming a poinsettia.

Native to Mexico, the Aztecs used ‘Cuetlayochitl” to make a reddish dye. The flower is actually a “bract” (type of leaf). The plant has been maligned by red-flag poison warnings: an Ohio State University study showed that a 50-pound child who ate 50 bracts might have a slight stomach ache.

When the leaves start to fall off, cut back the stems to 4 to 6 inches in height. Do this in February or early March. Keep almost dry, in a shady spot. This will promote new growth. Come late spring, repot in a slightly larger pot and gradually introduce to a sunnier window, keeping the soil moist. Turn the poinsettia pot regularly to prevent rooting through the bottom hole. A quarter turn each week is suggested. 

If you want the eye catching red bracts to develop again, come September you have to put it on strict light rationing. It needs to have 14 hours of TOTAL darkness per day, i.e. 5:00 pm to 8:00 a.m. Use a black plastic bag, and do so for eight weeks.  (You are mimicking the light patterns in its native land at that time of year.) then position and water as before. 

6. Line your household green bin with several layers of newspaper, not a plastic bag. Newspaper more readily decomposes in the big compost melt-down to which the stuff is sent. And then the system is less costly to our tax dollars as there aren’t so many plastic bags to be extracted from the process by technicians. 

7. Salvage Christmas tree boughs to protect your garden beds and tree bases. Cut the branches off the main trunk, and lay them on top of your garden beds and around trees. Multiple benefits: traps snow as insulation against winter thaws and temperatures fluctuations; protects against drying winter winds; provides added moisture bonus during spring melt off. Remove in spring once shoots start peeping through. 

8. Water evergreens during winter thaws (especially if under the roof overhang). As conifers still “breathe” through their leaves, evergreens lose moisture through transpiration. During no-snow periods, they are in danger of desiccating, and need to be watered weekly, just as if it were a summer drought. Branches can be freed from heavy snow pile up, but don’t knock off ice — you’re too liable to accidentally rip off living needles and branchlets. 

9. Identify spots where you need to fill in with winter interest items. 

10. Consider a live holiday tree for next year. (Especially good for filling in those winter interest gaps!)

If you don’t have your own garden, consider donating one to a park, church, cemetery, school, or apartment complex. Just make sure to get the okay ahead of time and check out if it can be considered a tax-deductible charitable contribution. 

In the fall, buy from a reputable nursery. Store in a protected spot in your yard and water regularly. Excavate where you’ll be placing it. Put the dug earth somewhere where it won’t freeze. 

Before bringing it inside, acclimatize the tree by putting it in an interim space for a few days, e.g. cool garage or unheated porch. The maximum amount of time a living tree can be in a house is five to seven days. Place in a cool spot away from heat sources. Keep lights to a minimum at they ‘cook’ the needles. Water daily. Try putting a tray of ice cubes on the root ball where they’ll gradually melt in. 

Once your five to seven days of tree-dom are over, put it back in the transition site for a few days, then outdoors in the hole that’s been dug for it (still in it’s pot). 

Pile the earth around it, and also other mulching material so that the roots are well protected against temperature variations and thaws and earth heaving. Come early spring, gently remove the insulating material and plant it for real.

Tags: Annex · Life