It’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, the weather was unseasonably warm. Now we’re looking at real winter temperatures. One minute, I want to work in the yard. The next, all I want is warm socks. I never know what I should be doing in the garden or when. Other than reading seed catalogues and planning for spring, what should I be doing now?
When volunteers begin their training as Master Gardeners, one of the first things they’re taught is this mantra: “I may not know the answer to your question, but I know how to find it.” In this case, I know both.
It’s not always convenient to clip and carry around the many excellent garden articles you find here at the Times-Union. It would be handier to have one place that has all the information you want at any time of the day or night. The Duval County Extension Office offers homeowners just that. Every other month, the Extension Office publishes “A New Leaf” newsletter available free of charge just for the asking. You can depend on each issue containing a to-do list for the north Florida gardener, along with a things-to-plant list, and interesting articles about current problems or issues faced by all gardeners at any particular time of year.
To receive a copy via e-mail, either e-mail the Duval County Extension Office at firstname.lastname@example.org, to have it delivered electronically, or pick up a copy at the Extension Office or a local nursery.
For tech-savy readers, go to the North Florida Gardening Calendar (edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep451). This site provides links to other sites with more detailed information on the topic you’re interested in.
Last year, I tried to plant my Christmas poinsettia in the yard after the holiday and ended up with nothing to show for my effort. I followed the instructions I found in a magazine article, but I should have simply thrown the plant away and been done with it. I’d like to try again but I’m a bit gun shy. What do you recommend?
As you’ve already learned, we do things a little differently in these parts. What works in other areas of the country – or even the state — doesn’t always apply to gardens in north Florida. Which is why I always start researching your and every question at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science’s website (IFAS) Solutions for Your Life. There you’ll find answers to questions like this that are specific to our region, climate and the flora and fauna that adorn it.
If you purchased your plant in mid-November, there’s a good chance it will transition well to the landscape. These early flowering varieties will also bloom early in the garden and not suffer the effects of early cold weather, namely wilting at best and die back if it freezes.
Speaking of freezes, if your plant has been outdoors and has been exposed to our recent cold temperatures, it may already be destined for the compost pile. Being native to Mexico and Guatemala, where they never freeze back, they can reach up to ten feet tall and wide. But here, when the temperatures drop to below 50 degrees, leaves drop and poinsettias often die.
If your plant has been indoors and is still healthy and green, the Christmas poinsettia can keep its color for months, even all the way to March. Keep the soil moist and the light bright, but don’t fertilize it until you’re ready to put it in the garden.
Then, as the weather warms up, trim the fading bracts — the colorful adapted leaves that we often consider the flower. Leave 4- to 6-inch stems above the soil and move it outdoors to a somewhat shaded area.
After a week or two of adapting to outdoor conditions, move the pot to increase the light level. Its permanent site should be in full sun and protected from artificial light at night. Remember that the plant will want 14 hours of darkness for 6-8 weeks to trigger flowering next fall.
Poinsettias want to remain moderately moist in well draining, fertile soil. They aren’t very picky about the type — sand, muck or clay — as long as it’s well drained. A healthy layer of mulch will be helpful to maintain the soil moisture.
In north Florida, you’ll begin using a well-balanced fertilizer (one with the first and third number equal and the middle number lower) monthly starting in May and continue through September as directed on the label.
In summer, when the previously pruned plant has new growth of 4-5 inches, you can propagate it by taking cutting. Take a 3- to 4-inch cutting with 2 or 3 matures leaves and place is a moist, sterile potting medium. Keep it in a warm, bright location and in 3-4 weeks it will have a healthy root system.
Whether you propagate cuttings or not, the poinsettia will be bushier and more attractive if you prune it at least twice a year around Memorial Day and Labor Day.
If you forget all this before March rolls around, and for complete care and pruning instructions, remember that UF IFAS site is just a click away. Search for “Poinsettias at a Glance” (edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep349) for complete details.
Paula Weatherby is a Master Gardener with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS. For gardening questions, call the Duval County Extension Office at (904) 255-7450 from 9 a.m. to noon and 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. and ask for a Master Gardener.