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Blackwelder column: How do I keep my poinsettia going?

By Darrell Blackwelder
For the Salisbury Post
SALISBURY – The holiday season has arrived in earnest with Thanksgiving come and gone and many homeowners buying or having received plants over the holidays. Below are a few questions posed to Cooperative Extension concerning holiday plants which are already on sale in stores throughout Rowan County:
Q: Are poinsettias really poisonous? I have heard through the years they are fatal if ingested.
A: 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, but these plants are ornamentals, intended for ornamental purposes only.
Q: Can I keep my poinsettia until next year? I really hate to throw them away every Christmas season.
A: Poinsettias can be grown as a houseplant during 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 years’ Christmas season can be done, but it will take a dedicated gardener. Many enjoy the challenge while others stimulate the economy by buying the holiday plant each year.
Q: Can I keep amaryllis bulbs for next year’s Christmas season?
A: After the bloom fades, cut the flower and the stalk an inch or so above the base of the bulb. Place the bulb in a sunny location and water through the winter as you would a normal houseplant. Thick, glossy leaves soon develop which is very important for the formation of new flowers for next seasons’ display. Some bulbs may have developed leaves as they flowered. When the danger of frost is past, usually the last of April or early May, bury the plant, pot and all, in the flower garden. Choose a protected location where light is filtered. Continue watering and feeding the bulb with a complete liquid fertilizer every two weeks. Under optimal growing conditions the bulb should increase in size during the summer growing season. Bring the potted bulb indoors; turn the pot on its side so the leaves will die. Then in about a month, repot the bulb for the holiday.
Q: 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?
A: These plants are not a true cactus like the desert plant, it’s 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 http://www.christmascactus.org for more complete information about care of the Christmas and other winter blooming cacti.
Darrell Blackwelder is the County Extension director with horticulture responsibilities with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Call 704-216-8970
www.rowanmastergardener.com
rowan.ces.ncsu.edu
www.rowanextension.com

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