A Sea of Poinsettias

It was a great Thanksgiving weekend, with visits from family, Black Friday shopping with my daughter and her friend and lots of food, including a pie made with cranberries and the last of my homegrown cherries. It was topped off with a visit to the Bachman’s greenhouses in Lakeville Sunday afternoon, courtesy of my friend Gwen and her husband, John, who works there.

 

My camera fogged up a bit when we first got to the greenhouses. They felt so warm, compared to the cold outside.
My camera fogged up a bit when we first got to the greenhouses. They felt so warm, compared to the cold outside.

Bachman’s grows about 65,000 poinsettias each year. Many are sold at the Bachman’s stores and the rest are grown for organizations that sell them as holiday fundraisers. The greenhouses (I think we were in three different ones during our walk through) are enormous and two weeks ago, they were completely full, John said. Now, many of the poinsettias have been shipped, but the ones remaining look like a sea of red, pink and white.

These tall poinsettias were striking at about 4 feet tall.
These tall poinsettias were striking at about 4 feet tall.

Poinsettias are native to Mexico and the English name came from the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett. In Mexico, the plant will grow to 10 to 15 feet tall. (Bachman’s grows some poinsettias taller than the usual 1-foot or so size and they are stunning.) The Aztecs used poinsettia leaves as a dye and used the sap to reduce fevers. While poinsettias are not poisonous to humans, they can cause vomiting and other stomach upsets in animals. (They also taste terrible, according to this great poinsettia website.) A member of the spurge family, poinsettias have the botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima. The brightly colored tops of the poinsettias are not actually flowers. They are brachts (modified leaves) and the tiny yellow bits inside the brachts are the flowers.

These small poinsettias would be attractive in the office.
These small poinsettias would be attractive in the office.

With the right situation, poinsettias can survive the winter. Here are some tips for keeping your holiday poinsettia healthy.

  • Try to give it 6 hours of indirect sunlight a day. (That may be tricky in Minnesota in December, but choose the poinsettia’s spot with light in mind.) Many sites recommend a south, east or west window, but the plant should not touch the cold glass.
  • Check the soil in the pot daily and give it a good drink whenever it feels dry to the touch. You should make sure the pot has a drainage hole (poke some holes in the foil wrapping, too). When you water, give the plant enough that the water runs out the hole in the bottom. If the plant is on a plate to catch the drips, be sure to empty the water so the plant’s roots don’t get too soggy.
  • If you want to keep your poinsettia as a houseplant, give it a dose of all-purpose houseplant food after the blooming season and once a month through winter.

Will you be getting a poinsettia this holiday season?

flower closeup
The yellow bits in the center are the flowers of the poinsettia.
These pinkish white poinsettias would be a showy addition to your holiday decor.
These pinkish white poinsettias would be a showy addition to your holiday decor.
And more poinsettias
And more poisettias

 

Minnesota State Fair Potted Plant Show

Cacti on display at the Minnesota State Fair potted plant show.
Cacti on display at the Minnesota State Fair potted plant show.

I’m not much of a houseplant or cacti grower, but I sure admire people who can keep a plant healthy and lush through the winters in our harsh climate. That’s one reason I usually stop by the MSHS Potted Plant, Cactus and Succulent Show at the Minnesota State Fair.

This year’s show will be held the first two days of the fair, Aug. 21 and 22, and now is the time to get your entries ready. The show features categories for growers of everything from African violets to patio petunias, orchids, coleus, roses, begonias, all types of succulents from aloe to sedum, figs, cacti of all kinds and dozens of other species. See the entry information for a complete list of categories.

Not flashy, but a beautiful and healthy looking plant.
Not flashy, but a beautiful and healthy looking plant.

Entrants should bring their plants to the Horticulture Building at the Minnesota State Fair before 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 20. Judging will be done that evening, with ribbons awarded for each category. Judges may also name a Grand Champion and Reserve Champion as well as special awards for exceptional entries.

The show is open to the public during the first two days of the fair, Aug. 21 and 22. It’s well worth a visit for any plant enthusiast.

Someone Gave Me a Poinsettia—Now What?

img_43731I suspect my sister, Suzy, is among the many holiday hostesses looking at a leafy, lovely poinsettia this morning and wondering, how do I take care of this? I bought several of the gorgeous poinsettias being sold by the Northfield High School choir recently and gave a big, white one to Suzy, who hosted 26 family and friends at Thanksgiving dinner yesterday.

I checked a few sources and came up with these steps to keep a poinsettia healthy:

  • Try to give it 6 hours of indirect sunlight a day. (That may be tricky in Minnesota in December, but choose the poinsettia’s spot with light in mind.) Many sites recommend a south, east or west window, but the plant should not touch the cold glass.
  • Check the soil in the pot daily and give it a good drink whenever it feels dry to the touch. You should make sure the pot has a drainage hole (poke some holes in the foil wrapping, too). When you water, give the plant enough that the water runs out the hole in the bottom. If the plant is on a plate to catch the drips, be sure to empty the water so the plant’s roots don’t get too soggy.
  • If you want to keep your poinsettia as a houseplant, give it a dose of all-purpose houseplant food after the blooming season and once a month through winter.
The yellow knobs at the juncture of the brachts are the poinsettia flowers.
The yellow knobs at the juncture of the brachts are the poinsettia flowers.

For more information on poinsettia history (did you know poinsettia’s were named after the U.S.’s first ambassador to Mexico, John Roberts Poinsett?), selection, and care, check out this great site at the University of Illinois extension.

Water pH and Your Plants

The late, great Malcolm Burleigh, an award winning grower and breeder of cacti and succulents, approached me once with an idea for an article in Northern Gardener about the pH of city water and its effect on plants. Malcolm and one of his cactus-growing friends from California had discovered that city water tends to be much more alkaline than rain water and that the change in pH made a big difference in plant performance. Rain water generally has a pH of 5.6–compared to a pH of city water in St. Paul (where Malcolm lives) of 8.2 and in Northfield of 7.4. The result, according to Malcolm, is that plants don’t perform well when they are watered with city water rather than rain. A retired chemist, he recommended adjusting pH downward with the addition of acid, usually vinegar or a low-pH fertilizer. For gardeners in St. Paul, he recommends one-half tablespoon of vinegar in five gallons of water. Malcolm noted remarkable improvements in his flowers and cacti since adjusting the pH of his water.

houseplants in sun
Adding a touch of vinegar to city water may improve the looks of your houseplants.

This got me thinking about last summer. Even though I watered my vegetable and flower beds and pots regularly during the dry part of the summer (basically June and July), nothing seemed to perk them up like a good rain. Now that may well be because they got a better dousing with rain than they did with me half-heartedly hitting them with the hose, but it could also be the quality of the water. Since reading Malcolm’s article, I have been doing an unscientific test of his theory on my houseplants. I water about once a week and give the plants a good drink with tap water that has been adjusted with vinegar. (I only mix up a gallon at a time, so I need about a half teaspoon.)

Adjusting pH for houseplants is one thing–an entire garden is another. Malcolm uses a watering system that involves a sump pump, a 45-gallon garbage pail, and an octopus hose system. I don’t have the technical skills to set that up, but I may look at ways to collect rain water to use on my gardens during dry spells. I’ve seen many rain barrels around Northfield, so apparently others are considering ways to harvest rain water as well. If you’re interested in reading Malcolm’s entire article, check it out here: water.pdf