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Blackwelder: Seasonal questions and answers

By Darrell Blackwelder
For the Salisbury Post
The Christmas season has arrived in earnest and many homeowners are purchasing or have received plants over the holidays. Below are a few questions posed to Cooperative Extension concerning holiday plants.
Question: Are poinsettias really poisonous? I have heard through the years they are fatal if ingested.
Answer: It’s a myth that’s been around since the early 1900s when a small child in Hawaii ate a few leaves of a poinsettia and mysteriously died later. The plant was deemed a poisonous plant. Documented information during this period was sketchy at best, but the myth still exists. Poinsettia bracts and foliage are not toxic; however, these plants are ornamentals, intended for ornamental purposes only.
Question: Can I keep my poinsettia until next year? I really hate to throw them away every Christmas season.
Answer: Poinsettias can be grown as a houseplant during in the winter months and moved outdoors as the threat of frost is gone. The plant will need constant pinching and care during the summer months. Move the plant indoors in September under natural light. Keeping a poinsettia for next year’s Christmas season can be done, but it will take a dedicated gardener. Many enjoy the challenge, while others stimulate the economy by purchasing the holiday plant each year.
Question: Can I grow mistletoe in my trees? I want to grow it so I can have it every Christmas.
Answer: Mistletoe has white, round, translucent berries that are spread by birds throughout the tree. The seeds are coated with a sticky layer, allowing the seeds to readily stick to the bark. The seeds germinate, sending a modified root into the host cambium layer for its nutrients. It takes a year or so for the plant to become established on the host tree. Once the mistletoe roots are established, the evergreen plant grows quickly and is easily identified after leaf drop in the fall. So I guess technically you can spread the seed on the bark this winter in the crevices of oaks and maples.
Question: My daughter gave me a Christmas cactus and I have never had one before. What do I need to do to take care of this plant?
Answer: These plants are not a true cactus like the desert plant; its growth habit is similar to an orchid or tropical understory plants. Humidity is a very important requirement for proper growth and development. Locate your Christmas cactus in a room with high humidity such as a kitchen or laundry room. If these aren’t acceptable locations, place the container on a tray of pebbles filled with water, which increases the humidity. Make sure the room is cool with bright, indirect light. Direct light from the sun will cause the leaves to turn yellow. Go to www.christmascactus.org for more complete information about care of the Christmas and other winter-blooming cacti.

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