Super-sized Christmas poinsettias are started now

Holidays for horticulturists usually have two dates.  First, there is the actual date that the holiday occurs. The second date is the time when plants associated with that holiday need to be started.

Greenhouse people are beginning to make preparations for Christmas now, in very early spring .

I’m sure you’ve seen giant-sized poinsettias in full bloom during the Christmas season. Did you ever wonder how they managed to get them so big? The secrete is to keep the same poinsettia plants growing year after year.  Each year the plants get bigger and produce more colorful bracts.

If you have a poinsettia that is still alive from Christmas, you can renew it and have a larger more colorful plant for next Christmas.

 

A bench of pruned poinsettias at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Ann Arbor.
A bench of pruned poinsettias in Greenhouse 3 at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Ann Arbor.

Start by pinching off all of the leaves and bracts from the plant. Many of them may have already dropped off anyway by now. Next cut the main stem or stems to about six to eight inches above the soil surface. Remove the plant from its pot.

This pruned poinsettia is just beginning to make new growth.
This pruned poinsettia is just beginning to make new growth.

It’s best to carefully rinse the old soil off of the roots and re-pot the plant using new potting mix. Removing the old soil is not absolutely necessary though, I’ve had very good results by simply leaving the existing soil then re-potting into a larger pot. What is necessary however, is using a loose commercial potting mix, not soil from the garden. Poinsettias need loose soil, no ifs ands or buts.

Then water thoroughly — soak the pot with water and let it completely drain out. Never let poinsettias sit in the water that collects in the pot saucer, they just can’t tolerate wet feet.

Put it in the brightest area you have to encourage it to grow. Once you see shoots developing, feed it with a good house plant fertilizer about once a month.

Later, after the danger of frost has passed, place the plant outside in a bright spot that has dappled shade during the hottest part of the day.

As the plant grows through the summer, you can pinch back shoots to help keep a symmetrical shape. Pinching will also stimulate more branching giving the plant a more compact and bushy look.

With some care and luck you’ll have a stunning plant to show off next Christmas.

Bob

 

Snow cover helps plants through harsh winter

Our second bitterly cold winter in a row is finally over. Even though this winter was not as cold as last year’s, it still made the record books as one of the top twenty coldest. It’s kind of surprising to me how quickly it ended. Just a few days of moderate temperature erased the snow.

The plants in our area look to be in pretty good shape despite those cold temperatures. We can thank the continuous blanket of snow that was covering the ground all winter.

Snow is nature’s insulator. I’ve heard people say they were worried because snow would freeze their plants. I’ve had to point out to them that snow is a gardener’s best friend , especially if you have perennial flowers and small fruit such as strawberries.

Farmers who grow winter wheat — which is planted in the fall — pray each year for snow cover so their wheat crop is not damaged by exposure to cold temperatures and desiccating winter winds.

Despite the fact that I neglected to mulch my strawberries as I usually do, they look to be in great shape.

The garlic I planted last fall looks good too. There was no covering on those either except what nature provided in the way of snow. I got lucky this time skipping the mulch, I don’t plan on ever taking a chance like that again.

The mud season around here was pretty short too, it lasted only a few days. The mud I’m talking about is that mud that forms when the surface layer of the soil thaws but the lower layers are still frozen. That surface water has no where to go so just turns into mud especially if poultry or livestock are walking over it.

Since the soil was not frozen very deep around here — again thanks to the continuous snow cover — it was able to thaw out very quickly.

One other surprise I found was a couple of rows of spinach that were still green and beginning to make good growth. Without that snow, they would have been frozen out way back in November.

The snow cover provided plenty of protection for a small row of spinach.
The snow cover provided plenty of protection for a small row of spinach.

It looks like we’ll be eating an early salad from the outdoor garden this year.

Up-cycle an old light fixture into a grow light

There was a small project that I had to get done this week. I needed to add another bank of lights in my seed starting area.

You would think that after so many years as a professional gardener my seed starting room would look like some kind of laboratory complete with stainless steel racks, electronic equipment and all other sorts of really cool stuff. A few years ago when I was starting many thousands of plants, that was pretty much the case. Now days, I’m gardening at a much smaller scale.

My seed starting area is probably much simpler than what the average serious garden has. My general rule for these types of things is to not buy anything fancy or brand new if I can make it myself without sacrificing functionality.

I have a a pair of three foot, single bulb fluorescent light fixtures that I bought for a couple of bucks at a garage sale last fall. My plan was to attach them together to make a single assembly that I can easily adjust up and down depending on the growth of the seedlings.

Used florescent light fixtures from a garage sale.
Used florescent light fixtures from a garage sale.

There were no florescent tubes when I got them. That actually was a good thing since, over time, the amount of light  florescent bulbs produce dramatically diminishes over time. I didn’t have to dispose of any used bulbs which saved me some hassle. The bad thing was that I only had the seller’s word for it that the fixtures worked.

The first thing I did was open up the case to inspect the innards to be sure there were no wires shorting that could be an electrical hazard — they both looked sound.

The inside of the fixture looked clean and no signs of electrical shorts.
The inside of the fixture looked clean and no signs of electrical shorts.

Next I tested them with my new bulbs and sure enough, they lit up nice and bright.

The bulbs lit up without hesitation or flickering.
The bulbs lit up without hesitation or flickering.

Fixtures like these usually have pre-drilled holes that are used for mounting onto various surfaces, these were no different. I had some metal drawer brackets in my inventory of useful stuff that I saved from an old dresser. They were the perfect size for joining the two fixtures together.

I used self-tapping sheet metal screws to attach the brackets to the light fixtures.  I bent pieces of heavy-duty fencing wire to make hangers for each end of the fixture assembly.

Self tapping screws work great for this application.
Self tapping screws work great for this application.

 

Heaves wire bent into shape makes a fine fixture hanger.
Heaves wire bent into shape makes a fine fixture hanger.

The assembly is hanging by leftover ceiling light chain from a section of shelving that someone gave to me.

I used part of a used plastic shelf unit to hand the lights from and hold trays of seedlings.
I used part of a used plastic shelf unit to hang the lights from and hold trays of seedlings.

Even if you don’t have parts like I had laying around, recycling center that sell building materials often have fixtures, shelves and other parts for sale at very reasonable prices. I noticed while visiting Recycle Ann Arbor today that they had five nearly new florescent fixtures in stock.

A couple of these fixtures were still brand new and in their original boxes.
A couple of these fixtures were still brand new and in their original boxes.

For a very modest investment in cash and time I ended up with an additional seedling grow light.