MASTER GARDENER — Celebrate the holidays with plants; try poinsettias
Posted at 12:02 a.m. on Wednesday, December 21, 2022
Christmas is fast approaching, and in case you haven’t noticed this week, winter is no longer “on the tiptoe” in Southeast Texas. She covers us with her icy cold kisses and just in time for many of you (fellow gardeners) who were hoping for more wintry temperatures.
I hope you are all happy, that your wishes come true (I mumble disparaging but inaudible comments about the cold in my beard)!
If you haven’t already, prepare for colder weather by protecting temperature-sensitive plants (move them to an enclosed area or cover them if possible – don’t use plastic), people (dress in layers to stay warm and stay hydrated when exposed to the elements), pets (provide warm, dry enclosures including adequate food and water or better yet , bring them indoors) and pipes (make sure the outdoor pipes are well insulated).
According to local meteorologists, a few days before Christmas, nighttime temperatures will drop below 20 degrees F.
On Christmas Eve, our maximum daytime temperature should be one degree above freezing! Say goodbye to mosquitoes, at least for a few days.
And just in case you missed my personal comments regarding cold temperatures in previous articles (I don’t like the cold) you can save them because this gardener is heading further south for Christmas this year, it’s considerably warmer hot in South Texas, over 20 degrees warmer-thanks!
No other holiday plant is more beautiful than the poinsettia. But do you know the story of the “Flower” which symbolizes Christmas for many of us?
The Christmas Eve flower or “Flor de Noche Buena” is how poinsettias are known in Mexico and Central America, their native habitat, are woody tropical shrubs reaching 10 feet. The Aztec Indians used the bracts (which are modified colored leaves) surrounding the small yellow flower centers, as a dye, while also using the milky latex sap of the plants as a medicine, to reduce fever.
In the 17th century, the Franciscan friars included them in their Christmas celebrations, hence the association of poinsettias with Christmas.
The star-shaped patterns of the leaves symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, while the red color represents the bloody sacrifice of Jesus.
The popularity of plants in the United States is attributed to a man, Joel Poinsett, who was the first American minister to Mexico, botanist and physician. The winter “flower” of plants intrigued him, so in the 1830s he took it with him to his home in South Carolina, to cultivate it.
There’s no reason to throw away your poinsettias after the Christmas holidays because they’re easy to care for year-round.
During the Christmas holidays, keep your poinsettia in a bright, indirectly lit place indoors and water the plant when the potting mix begins to feel dry to the touch while keeping it away from hot or cold drafts.
You will want to start fertilizing after their color begins to fade and always protect from temperatures of 50 degrees F or lower.
After Christmas until early fall, place the poinsettias in a sunny location (indoors) keeping the soil barely moist. Cut the plants back to a height of about 8 inches once the leaves begin to fall in the spring while continuing to water and fertilize.
Once new growth appears, repot and relocate outdoors, to an area that receives morning sun, and fertilize weekly. Pinch off a quarter of the poinsettia’s tips to encourage branching and bring the plant indoors when nighttime temperatures begin to drop below 50 degrees F.
From early October to mid-December, you should limit the amount of light the plant receives, which forces it to flower. To do this, put the plant in a dark place or cover it from 4 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day.
You must ensure that the plants do NOT receive light during the daily dark periods! Provide the plant with only 6-8 hours of sunlight per day.
Once the leaf bracts begin to color, stop the long nights (dark period) and no more fertilizer. Place the majestic Poinsettia as a great focal point inside your home and enjoy!
Until next time, so long for now gardeners. Let’s get out there and grow a greener, more sustainable world ourselves, one plant at a time! Merry Christmas to each of you!
John Green is a Certified Master Gardener from Texas. If you have questions about gardening or need more information, contact the Orange County Master Gardeners Helpline at 409-882-7010 or visit txmg.org/orange, Orange County Texas Master Gardeners Association on Facebook or email [email protected]