Puzzled about Poinsettia Care

Several people have recently asked me how to care for Poinsettia plants. The Poinsettia (Euphobia pulcherrima) is a popular gift choice to give during the winter holiday season. When I started researching care for the plant I discovered December 12th is National Poinsettia Day. The University of Illinois Extension provides some history and fun facts about the plant on their Poinsettia Pages.

For example, “in Mexico the Poinsettia is a perennial shrub that will grow 10-15 feet tall.” It was introduced to the United States by Joel Roberts Poinsett, a botanist and first United States Ambassador to Mexico.

Through my reading I also found the holiday plant, with its colorful bracts (modified leaves), is quite the diva. If you do not provide it with exactly everything it demands, it will throw a tantrum and drop those beautiful leaves. Take that! Only filtered water in its dressing room!

Not Too Cold, Not Too Warm

When selecting a place in your home to display the Poinsettia, be sure it does not sit in an area that is prone to cold drafts. The foliage should be kept away from cool window panes. Conversely, the plant should also not be set near appliances or on the television where it could receive too much heat.

An ideal temperature range to keep the Poinsettia blooming is between 65-70 degrees during the day. In the evening, the plant will benefit from a lower temperature of 60 degrees. However, temperatures below 60 could cause root rot.

Not Too Damp, Not Too Dry

Most Poinsettia pots are wrapped in colored foils when sold as gifts. Remove the pot from the foil so water does not sit at the bottom of the plant between the foil wrapper and pot. If you must, must, must have that festive foil, poke multiple holes in the bottom of the foil to allow water to drain.

Poinsettias can be watered when the soil surface is dry to the touch. But never let the plant’s soil completely dry out. It’s a good idea to check the soil daily. Soak the soil until water runs from the drainage holes. If you place a saucer beneath the pot, be sure excess water is dumped.

Bright Light, but Not Too Bright

The Poinsettia will be happiest where it will be exposed to bright, indirect, natural light but not sitting directly in sunlight. Areas near south facing windows are ideal. East or west will work too, but watch out for cool drafts near windows, especially at night. The combination of bright light and low humidity of winter may require the plant be watered more often.

Will the Poinsettia Rebloom?

Poinsettia

The pictured plant is Mom G’s Poinsettia from a past holiday. It is doing fairly well, but is leggy and she says a bit unpredictable in its blooming. Maintaining a commercial greenhouse vigor in a Zone 5b home environment is tricky.

A Poinsettia can rebloom the following holiday, but the care regime to ensure this is quite grueling. The New Mexico State University Extension, Ohio State University Extension, and Michigan State University Extension all have helpful pdfs for anyone willing to take on the yearlong challenge. Many people, myself included, will compost the plant after it has finished its holiday display.

All Natural Wickedness

This past August, Mom G. and I attended Garden Day at Michigan State University. There were some interesting looking seminars and more importantly Amy Stewart was scheduled as the keynote speaker. I had first read articles written by Amy on Garden Rant, and later was gifted her book Wicked Plants by my friend Mrs. R. Needless to say, I was super excited to hear her speak.

wicked-plants-coverWicked Plants is a pretty fantastic book. It has beautiful illustrations, interesting plants, and a creepy vibe… all things I adore. In her first talk, Amy commented on the overall theme of the book and touched on a few plants featured therein. She said when creating the book, she wasn’t interested in a field guide of poisonous plants. She wanted stories with victims and villains on which to pin the crime. Some of the plants come from far away (relative to USDA Zone 6a) places, but others are sold at local nurseries here. Still other plants from the book live right here on the Lot.

“All Natural” Does Not Mean “Safe”

One thing Amy said that made me think “huh, funny I had never thought of it that way,” is people often confuse the term natural for something that is inherently safe or considered “good for us.” I’ve seen a lot of homemade cleaners and toiletries made from natural ingredients populating Pinterest boards. Granted I haven’t made the effort to recreate these, but I also never stopped to wonder if the ingredients, albeit natural, are really safe to use. Plants do not have the ability to run away from threats. Since flight is not an option, they have evolved to utilize fight in the form of toxic seeds, blistering sap, and many other techniques.

Beware the Backyard

In Wicked Plants I enjoyed learning more about plants we have grown or are growing here on the Lot. I knew about a few of them, yet others are so commonly used in the decorative landscapes I was surprised to find them in the book.

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)

I knew this ground cover was used in a German, alcoholic drink of some kind. Now I know the leaves of sweet woodruff are used in the making of May Wine. Here in the U.S., the plant is only considered food safe as a flavoring in alcoholic drinks. High doses can result in dizziness, paralysis, coma, or death.

Foxglove (Digitalis spp.)

I knew this pretty plant was poisonous so I moved it outside of the backyard to keep it away from the Four-footed Management. Also, in the album Hazards of Love, the Rake rids himself of a pesky child by feeding her foxglove. All parts of plant if ingested can cause ailments including an upset stomach, headache, and even fatal heart problems. Skin irritation can be caused just by handling the plant.

Lenten Rose (Hellebore spp.)

Sap from the lenten rose can cause irritation to the skin while ingestion can result in vomiting, dizziness, and convulsions. I had no idea this plant was in any way toxic. Some historians link this plant to the First Sacred War and the victory of the Greek military alliance over the city of Kirrha.

Tulip (Tulipa spp.)

Beyond producing an irritating sap, the tulip can cause painful swelling, rashes, and cracks in the skin to some people when being handled. Ingestion of the bulbs can cause vomiting, breathing problems, and severe weakness. I wonder if the squirrels on the Lot who dig up, take a bite of, and discard the tulip bulbs every experience this.

Yew (Taxus baccata)

When the arborvitaes were removed from the south side of the house, I spared the sole yew in the bed. It looks kind of funny by itself now, but I couldn’t bring myself to have it pulled out since it was not interfering with anything. Little did I know this plant’s poisonous nature was used in Caesar’s Gallic Wars as a type of suicide dose to avoid defeat. Every part of the plant except the flesh of the berry (the seed is toxic) is poisonous.

The Most Wicked Plant of All

Throughout her research for Wicked Plants, Amy said she found no other plant as deadly as Nicotiana tabacum, also know as the cultivated tobacco plant. It contains nicotine in its leaves which wards off insects. Tobacco covers 9.8 million acres of land, has killed ninety million people, and continues to kill about 5 million more a year.

The Fear of Foliage

So naturally toward the end of her talk, Amy made the point we as gardeners do not have to be afraid of everything we grow. Instead, we should have an awareness and respect for plants. Used correctly, some deadly plants are valuable ingredients in medications. Children should be taught not to put flowers and berries, any part of a plant they find growing outside, into their mouths. Pet owners should make an attempt to keep poisonous plants out of areas where a bored pet may take a nibble. And gardeners, remember to wear those gloves!

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day – November 2014

On this chilly Bloom Day, temperatures in our Zone 6a reached a whopping 30 degrees Fahrenheit. This seems to have been the weather theme for 2014. Everything has been cooler this year. This type of chill in November reminds me more of the Zone 5a where I grew up in the countryside, not in our current urban microclimate. Our trick-or-treaters had red noses and snowflakes in the air this year.

We’ve had our first hard frost already and the majority of the colorful Fall leaves are on the ground. Most of the perennials in the garden are looking quite fatigued if not completely wilted from the cold temperatures. I only have a handful of pictures to share, but thought it’d be a good idea to log them anyway.

This first mess of color is of an old-fashioned spirea we have in the backyard bed. I pruned this one back hard after it bloomed in the Spring. The growth was old, overgrown, and collapsing from the center. The shrub sprung back throughout the season with healthy new growth.

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Here is a bit of Lamium that is sheltered by the fence and house at the southeast corner of the backyard. Behind it is foliage from a Heucherella ‘Sweet Tea’ and a little Labrador Violet to the left.

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And here is our single pumpkin the raised veggie bed decided to grow this year. We were going to carve it for Halloween but never had time to do so. It’s currently under the bird feeder as a snack for the squirrels. You can see they have already started to nibble on the back corner a bit.

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So, only one plant is blooming right now on the Lot. Everything else seems to be settling in for the Winter. Head on over to May Dreams Gardens and maybe you’ll find a few more blooms from the more toasty areas of the world.