Q: I purchased such a beautiful poinsettia this holiday season that I’d like to continue to grow it and maybe have it to bloom next December. How should I care for it? Can it spend the summer on my patio?
Carol Aupperle, Cary
A: Poinsettia are among the true joys of the holiday season, and many will continue to look great for another month or more. Getting them to re-bloom the following year can be tricky, though, so unless you really want to put in the work, I generally advise people to compost their plants and start fresh next season.
If you are set on keeping your plant, follow these directions:
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Keep your plant watered well and in a sunny window. In late winter trim all the shoots back hard, leaving only one to three leaves per stem. Your plant may need to be re-potted into a slightly larger pot at this time. When your plant begins re-growing, fertilize with a water soluble fertilizer at the rate recommended for flowering plants.
Your plant can be moved outside in summer to a slightly shaded spot where you should continue to water and fertilize it. In early July, pinch the top 1 inch or so from each shoot to encourage a bushier plant. In late August, cut the stems back leaving three to five leaves on each shoot and bring your plant inside to a sunny window. For best results make sure the temperatures are relatively low – 65-70 degrees at night – and continue to water and fertilize. All this trimming and fertilizing is to create a full, bushy plant instead of a thin, scraggly one.
The next step is vital for flowers by the Christmas season. Poinsettia need full nights of uninterrupted darkness to flower. Starting at the beginning of October, put your plant in a dark closet from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. and then back to a sunny window during the day until Thanksgiving. Continue fertilizing and your plant should flower by the holiday season.
A cottony menace
Q: This year I had a problem with something that looked like cotton on certain plants, including turk’s cap, trumpet plant, and Maximilian sunflower. I couldn’t tell whether it was a fungus or an insect. Nothing I tried got rid of it and it just spread from one plant to another, eventually killing the plant. Can you tell me what this is, and how to get rid of it so the problem doesn’t return next year?
Lula Hardy, Goldsboro
A: It sounds as though you may have had a problem with mealybugs, which will certainly attack all the plants you mention. Mealybugs are an unarmored scale insect that form a cotton-like mass to protect against predators. They can be difficult to control if the infestation is severe. If caught early, a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol will be enough to take them out. If the infestation is more severe, an insecticidal soap can be used as a safe and effective control.
Best plants for low light
Q: I am looking for the appropriate care for plants that thrive in low light. The office I work in has few windows and fluorescent lighting. My home has some windows facing south with morning sun. I would love to grow indoor vegetables or herbs but will settle for flowers or bulbs. Any suggestions for this indoor dilemma?
Sandra McCormick, Havelock, N.C.
A: Low light for indoor plants can be quite difficult as even many of the ones touted for shade really need more light to thrive than they get in a dark nook. My favorites for easy care in a really dim environment include cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior), fishtail palm (Caryota mitis), lady palm (Rhapis excela), peace lily (Spathiphyllum), snake plant (Sanseveria) and ZZ plant or cardboard palm (Zamioculcas zamiifolia). Quite a few other plants – often with showy leaves – are touted as good for low-light indoor environments, but my experience shows that they really need a bit more light to thrive.
Mark Weathington is the director of the JC Raulston Arboretum at N.C. State University in Raleigh. Info: jcra.ncsu.edu. Please send your gardening questions, and the city where you garden, to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Common name: Winter Daphne
Botanical name: Daphne odora
Family: Daphne (Thymelaeaceae)
Category: Evergreen shrub
Primary uses: Shade gardens, fragrance gardens
Dimensions: 24 to 36 inches tall by 36 to 40 inches wide.
Culture: Partial to full shade. Prefers a well-drained organic, acid, woodland soil. Once established, it will tolerate considerable drought but will quickly succumb to root rot if its feet are wet. Small plants can be planted right at the base of large trees which will take up excess soil.
Bloom time: Winter
Color: Pink buds which open to apple-blossom white flowers
Hardiness: 0 F (USDA hardiness zone 7)
General attributes: Winter daphne is the queen of winter-flowering shrubs forming a low mound of evergreen, dark leaves. In mid-winter, terminal clusters of pink buds (white in some selections) open to reveal white flowers. The blossoms are exquisitely fragrant and their citrusy scent will float throughout the entire garden. Many variegated forms exist with creamy white or yellow margins to the leaves. Daphne can be short-lived, often lasting only five to eight years in the garden but their exceptional qualities make them well worth the occasional re-purchase.