14 January 2012

Free Range Poinsettias

Do I have a green thumb or what?
How many people keep poinsettias after Christmas and try to get them to rebloom the next year? And how many people, with fungus gnats, white flies, and yellow leaf drop throw in the towel and throw the darn thing away? They may be cheap but they're not easy.

Two years ago, I planted a cheap holiday poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) outdoors in the spring. I wanted to give it a chance to live on past its normal life expectancy so retired and moved it to a warm sunny southern climate.

The southern side yard was a perfect place, and it grew quite well. In the fall, the new leaves became smaller, grew more slowly, and had a red tinge to them and their veins, like we all do after too many merlots. The experience was encouraging and rewarding, as reported that year. [21.10.2010]

This spring, I placed two potted poinsettias from last Christmas in the side yard, hoping to decide on a placement later. Laziness set in and 'later' turned into 'never.' They stayed in their pots with their original soil. In the fall, due to cold and longer nights, they began their change again. Our frost came very late this year; so as long as they were not yet compost fodder and not in the way of the fall garden chores, they stayed.

They were moved to the deck, close to the warmer house after the first light frost, and eventually made their way indoors. I decided to keep them going to see what would happen to those reddish leaves. Every evening upon retuning home from work, I stumbled around a dark house to find my poinsettias and move them from their sunny daytime french doors and place them in the dark cellar near the outside door. Every morning, I reversed the routine (but needed not stumble) or placed them outdoors on those occasional warm days. Poinsettias need long nights to bloom and bloom they did in time for Christmas.

One plant was purchased at an inexpensive supermarket, and the other at Home Depot. (No need to spend oodles of bucks on throw away plants during the holiday shopping season.) The National Poinsettia Cultivar Trials indicates there are hundreds of varieties. My two show notable differences.

One has dark green leaves, and much larger blooms than the other lighter green leaf. But, this one with the naked legs lost more of its lower leaves. Both plants have smaller blooms than when purchased, and much stronger stems. I will attribute this to not being fed a constant junk food diet of fertilizer. I remember that whole stems on both plants easily broke off after purchased, maybe due to the soft fast growth promoted by production nursery greenhouses.

The red flowers are actually bracts (like dogwood tree 'petals') and have so far lasted a month. The yellow flowers in the centers are just now beginning to bloom. Next year I promise to take better care (larger pots, pruning, and some love) during the summer and hope to write about the larger blooms in 2013.

07 January 2012

Alexandria Holiday Decoration

It was a busy time during the holidays, and without many plants growing, there was not much material for the blog. I thought another yearly door decoration post might be in order.

Over the past few years, a securities company across the street from my office in Old Town Alexandria decorates its front door in true colonial style. Natural fruit and greens adorn the door and transom window during the holiday season.

A few years back, I took a candlelight tour of nearby Mount Vernon. George Washington and his friends celebrated Christmas, but it was not the holiday it is today. Decorations, understated by today's standards, were usually natural greenery. Plants that magically remained green through this bleak time of year held a special significance and were thought to bring life and good luck to the household.

December 25 was the beginning of the Christmas season, culminating with the more important feast in January, twelve days (of Christmas) later. Gatherings of friends for dinner, games, and music were the important items for the holiday here in Virginia - not the trimmings and trappings. Any fruit used as interior decoration was eventually eaten.

These Old Town door decorations consist of boxwood wreaths on the door, and actual oranges, pineapple, grapefruit, and apples above. I do not know what the sprig is at the pineapple - it looks like amaranth.