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Poinsettias and tulips: Christmas season plants?

December 20, 2013
By H.I. JEAN SHIELDS - Garden Club of Cape Coral ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The lovely traditional poinsettia plant is well known and loved by many of us. Its history and special Christmas legends are remembered every year.

The beautiful regal tulip plant - not so much a Christmas favorite. I mention it here because I happened to be in a grocery market last week and there settled among the poinsettia plants was a large glass cylinder of tall green leaves, with their bare bulbs and delicate root systems nestled in a low water bath!?

I am a transplanted northern person and have always been fond of the spring blooming tulips. We did not consider them a winter holiday flower in South Jersey.

Tulips are a northern species and do not do well in Florida because they need to be chilled in the winter during their dormancy time. They are expected to bloom once in the spring and not rebloom. Here they are considered a potted houseplant.

We also know that there are people who are willing to pre-chill the bulbs under refrigeration for several months and successfully manipulate these plants. And guess what? A very dedicated gardener will plant the bulbs in the spring and they will bloom. Florida is not the best place for this type of plant. We are just too hot and we have a spring rainy season that the more dry-loving tulips do not like.

The regular sprinkling system we use here, that sometimes allows us to grow a sun sensitive plant as long as it has a well draining spot of moisture, does not work for a tulip. A full day of heavy rain followed by a lot of hot sun, not good.

I was very surprised to read the label on the tulip container saying just keep the root system in water, not the bulbs, and the plants would grow very well?

The other instructions, keep at room temperature in well-lit area of house.

You can also chill the vase daily to extend bloom life. The plant is not in bloom but looks very healthy so will hope for the best. I am also not chilling it every day. Right now this house is chilled enough. There are seven bulbs and the house will not be over 75 for the next week. A high of 80, I will just put some ice cubes in the sink and set vase on a plate or pan and see what happens.

This would be a great hostess gift for someone that is a gardening friend and likes the challenge of something new. I will let you know how much success I have.

In the meantime, it is still possible to have some great poinsettias for the season. I always buy several poinsettias for New Year's. An early Christmas plant will become too leggy and unattractive in a couple of weeks, put that outside in among some busy plants so that just the color shows. I can then have more fresh blooms for another couple of weeks. The most I have every kept a very nice blooming poinsettia has been March. I am sure it is not really my care, but just an extra healthy plant.

Market prices decrease sharply after Christmas day.

Speaking of prices. I read that in Naples, Italy, there has been a Christmas scam concerning the Mafia gangsters and the fact that shop owners must sell these plants for around $140 each, or their shops will be mysteriously damaged. Of course this scam is only alleged. For the past 3 years poinsettia plants usually go for $5 in southern Italy. The extra profits going to the clan. In our area this would not be a scam, just an extra tax.

I hope you all remember that if you should accidentally break off a nicely flowered stem, you can save it as a cut flower. The way to do this is to get a match and cauterize the end of the broken stem. That

will stop the oozing sap and the stem can then be put into a vase or an arrangement for several days without any further care, or water.

The main care with this procedure is to remember to do this outside or in the sink. The sap, which will sputter when flame hits it, has a safe place to fall, and the match which you will probably try to hold too long will need to be dropped quickly. An inch of water in sink should do, or in a pan, in the sink. The sap is not very toxic, however if you are allergic to latex you will need to wash it off your hands with soap and water. Do not get it in your eyes and do not eat any plant parts. Pets should not be chewing on leaves. The sap is not deadly but may cause stomach upset in pets or humans. No pretty parts to decorate food.

Poinsettias do not like the cold. I have two setting on lain and the past two nights have not damaged them. However, any lower than 50 is not good for them, do not set them in the hot afternoon sun to warm up. I put them in the garage at night if temperature will be under 50. I do have some of the very small and medium size plants out in the soil, or some, still in their pot, sunk into the soil. I make sure they are damp out there, not bone dry. The dew point lower with the cold nights will just wick away all moisture. Water only the soil, the leaves and the brackets (red parts) do not need to be watered.

With all of the holiday fun parties, gift giving and good cheer, do not forget that this season has a special spiritual meaning in many ways for many people.

We all benefit from doing good things for others. Young and old alike.

Remember the Christmas legend of the little child who had no gift to offer the baby Jesus at the Church alter. The child picked some pretty weeds along the roadside and laid them at the alter, as the gift. The weeds were the beautiful red poinsettia plant with their star-like bracts and tiny cluster of flowers nestled inside.

It is not how much you give; it is the act of giving, that matters.

Happy gardening and holidays, until we meet again.

H.I. Jean Shields is a past president of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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