Some of you have had your white Christmas washed away by a rainy Christmas Eve, but the cold will return as winter continues.
Buy the calcium chloride de-icer to protect your landscape plantings! It does a much better job than ordinary rock salt. The good news is that we have turned the corner on daylight hours and every day from now on will feature a little more daylight than the previous one until June!
I hope you were fortunate enough to receive a beautiful plant as a holiday gift. If not, there are some great bargains available right now at your local greenhouses or garden center.
Not too many years ago, most holiday gift plants, such as poinsettias, did not last very long after they were brought home. Today’s plants are much tougher and many poinsettias sold this past month will still look quite spectacular in March or even April if given a little care.
Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous per se, so you need not worry about someone (or your cat or dog) getting sick from chewing on the leaves. However, most poinsettias, like almost every plant that has been mass produced, have been treated with some sort of insecticide or fungicide, which may have a residue in the plant tissue. It is not a good idea to eat a leaf to prove the nontoxic point.
Here in Florida, poinsettias grow wild into shrubs or are sometimes used as foundation plants. My local friend Willy has a beautiful specimen that is the size of a small tree in full bloom now!
Not all gift plants will remain in prime condition as long as poinsettias. Chrysanthemums are often “forced” to bloom indoors in December as well as for other holidays and theoretically they can be saved for spring planting into your outside garden. With a lot of luck the mum might bloom again outside sometime next fall. Realistically, unless you really enjoy an indoor gardening challenge, enjoy the mum until the flowers fade and then discard it. Hundreds of thousands more will be produced next season just for decorations.
The same is true for cyclamen and all of the spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils, tulips, crocus and hyacinths. These plants will hold their flowers longest if placed in a cool room (50 degrees) at night.
Amaryllis plants, however, make wonderful long-lasting houseplants that may reflower once or twice a year for 50 years or more. Every Christmas I give my daughter an amaryllis bulb that she plants in her backyard, where it becomes a perennial. Christmas or Thanksgiving cacti also make hearty, long-lived houseplants that bloom every year with little effort on your part.
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 flowers, but not in the winter after they 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 than we can realistically provide indoors 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 April our longer days will allow some new growth, but the plant really wants to be outside in full sun.
You can transplant it outside in mid May and it should survive all summer. If your plant should suddenly start producing lots of confetti-like, tiny white insects, it would be best to get rid of it. These insects are called whiteflies and they can infest your other houseplants.
Experiencing Christmas in Florida is still a little weird for this Yankee snowbird. My senior citizen body is enjoying the warmth and the joy of seeing the grandkids is wonderful, but my heart still resides in the beautiful Catskill Mountains.
The COVID pandemic has put a serious damper on many holiday celebrations, but I think there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel. Within a few months, most of us will have access to a vaccine. I urge all of you to be very careful until that happens. Double down on your safety precautions, wear your mask and avoid indoor parties if at all possible.
Happy New Year! 2021 will be a lot better than 2020!