The Block Island Times

Caring for your Christmas poinsettia

Dec 21, 2013
Photo by: Fred Nelson

The Christmas season is encircled with religious significance, as it should be. However, it appears that the decorations that abound throughout the environment enhance the joyous atmosphere. Specifically, the inclusion of several members of the plant field that includes the Christmas tree, the poinsettia, Christmas cactus and various other flowering plants and adornments including evergreen boughs, pine cones and berries. By the way, have you noticed the wide, fascinating variation of the colors of poinsettias that the plant breeders have introduced? Just as the auto industry, the plant breeders feel that they must produce something new each year.

Outside of the decorative members of the physical field such as lights and bells and balls, plants make up the mainstay of decoration. As such, being living organisms, they require maintenance to enable them to remain as fresh as possible during the holiday season that now starts just before Thanksgiving and extends to the New Year. Such care includes water, specifically for the Christmas tree and house plants.

A fresh cut Christmas tree will last for several weeks if the butt end of the tree is kept in fresh water. This requires almost daily attention to keep sufficient water in the tree stand for it to cover the cut end of the tree. If a “fresh-cut” tree fails to absorb any water, then it is not a “fresh-cut” tree. Absorption of water is enhanced if a fresh cut is made to the bottom of the tree. Follow this by shaving the bark just above the butt of the tree. Another aid is to spray the tree, as well as any other greens, with an antidesiccant such as Wilt-Pruf. This material, when sprayed upon foliage, seals the plant cells, thus reducing water loss through transpiration. Broadleaf evergreens in the landscape can also be protected from “winter-burn” by this method. Further protection for evergreens is to wrap burlap around the plant, apply a deep mulch to assist in limiting penetration of frost in the soil. It is never too late to follow these precautions.

As I have pointed out in previous years, the poinsettia will maintain its “blossom” for several months, providing that it is given some simple, loving care. If possible, provide some portion of the day where the plant will receive sunshine. Do not over water the plant. If the soil feels dry to the touch, thoroughly water the plant, drain off any excess water and then follow this cycle for the ensuing months. Other flowering house plants may be maintained similarly. Non-flowering houseplants require the least care with regard to watering and sunlight. Their health and vitality will be enhanced with the inclusion of an occasional application of soluble fertilizer. Follow the directions on the label to avoid over fertilizing. One cultural factor that some folks are reluctant to use is periodically pinching all of the terminal growth tips. This allows the plant to branch out and grow more fully. If you prefer the longer growth, then “neglect” the plant and let it grow.

I wish everyone a joyous Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

“The garden, like beauty in landscape, is inimical to all evil passions; it stands for efficiency, for patience in labour, for strength in adversity, for the power to forgive.” — George Sitwell, “On the Making of Gardens” (1909)

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