How do you know whether a poinsettia is really fresh or has been in the nursery or store too long? You have to peer inside—the showy parts of the plant are not flower petals, but modified leaves, or ‘bracts’. The true flower is in the middle: round, yellowish and tiny. If the flower is fully open, exposing the stamens and starting to turn brownish, you know it’s been indoors and on the shelves too long.
After the winter holidays: what to do with the festive plants you received for holiday gifts if you want to continue to grow them year round?
Poinsettia: If you have been displaying it indoors, you want to gradually ‘harden it off’ by transitioning it to the outdoors. Put it out during the day, bring it in at night for a few nights, before planting it outside. The poinsettia is a frost tender native of Mexico, so plant it in full sun, but protect it from frosty nights: Sunset WGB recommends planting, “against a sunny wall, in sheltered corner, in south-facing eaves”. It will become a rangy shrub 10’+ tall and about 6’ wide.
Christmas Cactus: Because in their natural setting—they live in trees—if planted in our gardens they need a rich, porous soil, regular water and part shade. If you keep them in a container it’s best to give them 12-14 hours of darkness and 50-55 degrees F temperature in November to have them bloom for the holidays. Remember to feed them regularly during growth and blooming times.
Cyclamen: Native to Asia, the Mediterranean and Europe, this perennial makes for a wonderful woodland addition. Needs regular water and some shade in our hotter East Bay areas. When planting, be sure corm is mostly above good draining soil. During hotter summer days, plants will lose their leaves, but will promptly grow new ones when the weather cools. There is a beautiful display of cyclamen at Woodside’s Filoli in their woodland garden (different species, but lovely nevertheless).