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Archive for Thursday, December 8, 2005

Poinsettia, Norfolk Island pine festive for holidays

December 8, 2005

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Now that the flag has officially dropped on the Christmas season, the next several weeks will be packed full of family gatherings, office parties and other seasonal events.

I say let the gift giving begin!

While many people choose to purchase commercial gifts, others take pride in creating their own. I, on the other hand, prefer to give green. Not money - plants. Here are some tips to keeping these holiday plants alive this year:

An American icon for many years, poinsettias are still the No. 1 holiday plant to give or receive. First brought to America in 1825 by Joel Roberts Poinsett, poinsettias are native to Mexico and are a member of the genus Euphorbia.

Several of its relatives contain diterpenes, a toxin known to cause death. However, this is not the case with poinsettias. In fact, the 1985 American Medical Assn. Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants states that the poinsettia has not been found to produce fatal effects when taken orally or applied to the skin. Though there may be an allergic reaction to the milky sap in some people, there has never been a recorded case of poisoning. Do not take this to mean that we should start adding poinsettia leaves to our salads. Lettuce is much tastier and far less expensive. But do display these magnificent plants in a place where all in the home can enjoy them.

With proper care, a poinsettia should stay beautiful for weeks or even months. Set the plant in a sunny window. The more light, the better. Be sure that the plant does not touch the window, as the cold will damage the leaves. Keep plants away from warm and cold drafts such as heater ducts, above the television, on the fireplace mantel or in front of open doors to the outside. Punch holes in the bottom of the decorative foil to allow excess water to drain through the pot. Water the plant when the soil is dry by adding enough water so that it runs out the bottom. Then, do not water the plant again until the soil dries.

Another popular plant is the Norfolk Island pine. It is often used as an indoor living Christmas tree because it resembles a true pine with horizontal branches and bright green needles. It is a tropical evergreen tree that is adaptable to indoor conditions. With proper care, it can be a long-lasting houseplant that grows 3 to 6 inches annually. They do well in indirect sunlight but do not like wet feet. To water them, apply enough water to allow some to drain out of the bottom of the container, then discard the excess. Fertilize sparingly with a complete water-soluble fertilizer being sure to follow the manufacturer's recommendations. Fertilize older plants every three to four months, and repotted or newly purchased plants every four to six months. They only need to be repotted every three to four years using a commercially available potting mixture.

A third popular holiday plant is amaryllis. Amaryllis is a tender bulb that can be forced to bloom this time of year. The genus name, Hippeastrum, means "horse star," an appropriate name for a plant that produces massive blooms as much as 8 to 10 inches across. These plants can produce three to four blooms on a 1- to 2-foot-tall stem. Amaryllis bulbs vary in size. However the bigger the bulb, the bigger the bloom. They like tight quarters, so plant them in a pot only 1 to 2 inches larger in diameter than the bulb, leaving half of the bulb exposed. Amaryllis likes day temperatures in the 70s and night temperatures in the 60s. The flower bud may start to appear right away or the plant may remain dormant for a period of time, but eventually all mature bulbs do bloom. Move the plant to a cooler location and out of direct sunlight when the flower buds begin to show color so that the flowers last longer. Amaryllis can remain in bloom for about a month.

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