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Tuesday, Sep 23, 2014
South Shore News

Christmas plants can last for years


Published:

On this most important birthday, I wish all my readers a joyful 12 days of Christmas and a Happy New Year. If you’ve received plants as gifts for Christmas, they can last for years as trees or shrubs in our Florida landscapes or in our homes as flowering plants.

And if you didn’t get any, this might be a good time to buy some with your gift money. You might even find them on sale.

Poinsettias are most popular right now and come in many colors. They can thrive in our yards and become ever larger shrubs as long as there’s no frost or they’re protected if we do get any. One way around this is to set them in the ground – pots and all. If frost threatens, you can just pull them all up and take them indoors. Once winter has passed, just pick up the pots, remove them and put the plants right back in the holes. Maybe there won’t be any serious frosts this year. We can only hope.

Poinsettias need full sun to thrive and no artificial light to bloom. Lights will not bother blooms already set, but the plants will not bloom again next year as long as street or porch lights stay on. They set buds in reaction to winter’s short days.

The Christmas cactus is another favorite Christmas gift. These need bright, indirect light. Too much sun will cause the flowers to fade more quickly. If you’ve failed with these as I have, it could be because we’ve not watered them right. They need less water than most house plants but more than most cacti. Water well when the top half of the soil in the pot feels very dry to the touch, but be sure there is ample drainage so the plant doesn’t sit in water. Once the flowers are open, you can move the plant for a few days to a spotlight place, but then get it back to where it gets bright light.

After bloom, prune by cutting off a few sections from each stem to encourage branching – the more stem tips, the more flowers. The sections you snip off can be rooted for new plants.

These seem to do well on screened porches and pool surroundings in Florida. They are also short-day bloomers, so for next year’s bloom, keep the plants away from night lighting. Night temperatures in the low 50s also are needed from early November until the plants set buds. But I’ve known people to have great success without being too fussy about these details.

Today’s pick is the holly. There are many species of holly – some shrubs and some trees.

One of the best is the East Palatka holly, discovered in 1927 near East Palatka, where it’s often found in swampy areas along roadsides. It’s one of several natural hybrids between Ilex cassine, Dahoon holly and Ilex opaca or American holly.

The trees are evergreen and can grow 30-feet tall in high light though they will stay smaller if grown in a container. They take on a pyramidal form as they mature and the red berries are quite decorative, especially near the top of the tree. Birds love the fruit. White flowers in the spring are not conspicuous. Its rounded leaves usually have only one spine at the end.

Holly needs a sunny spot, has medium drought and salt tolerance and considerable storm resistance. The berries are poisonous if ingested.

Now’s the time to take a walk through the garden and just enjoy. Very few of us will work there today. We can miss quite a few days in the winter. If you have company and you know they would like to see your garden, take them around and share your delight.

But if they aren’t gardeners and don’t ask, don’t mention it. I learned that the hard way. Though I dearly love many such people, it’s a bit depressing when they ask if the neighbors complain.

Don’t forget to check out the free, master gardeners talks at libraries near you.

Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at monicabrandies@yahoo.com. Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.

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