Category Archives: Holidays

Last Minute Festive Plant Care Tips

by Christine Freeburn, Master Gardener

Christmas is only a few days away and hopefully you have all your cookies baked, your shopping done, presents wrapped under the tree and your decorations up. Here are a few last minute tips to help you and your plants through the next week.

If you are taking plants to family or friends, bundle them up before putting in a warm car so they won’t be shocked from the drastic temperatures. If you buy a poinsettia, be sure the clerk wraps it well as they are very susceptible to drafts. If you are taking the plant home before you give it away, remove the paper or plastic wrapper to let the plant breathe once you get it into the warmth of your home. Check the soil to be sure it is damp and water if necessary. The same applies to any arrangement you might be transporting. Keep warm and watered so the plants are happy.

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If you have leftover cut evergreen pieces, now is the time to use them up. BC cedar and Ontario white pine look the nicest. Make little arrangements for in your bathroom either in oasis or in water. Place stems in vases along with fresh flowers. Lay fresh greens on mantles, side tables or your dinner table. Add stems around your amaryllis bulb or with your paperwhites. You can purchase a WiltProof product which when sprayed sparingly on fresh greens, will prolong their life. Please be mindful of fire hazards when you are decorating with fresh greens.

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And have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday Season!

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The Christmas Rose: Helleborus niger

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

Nothing warms a home up as much as plants do. At this time of the year there are so many options to choose from: Poinsettias ranging in colour from white to deep reds, Cyclamen, Christmas Cactus, Amaryllis, Rosemary to name a few. There is one, however, that is usually found in garden centres in the spring but which one can occasionally find in a grocery store or florist in the fall, and that is the Christmas Rose. Its botanical name is Helleborus niger and its common name is Hellebore.

Helleborus niger is a hardy perennial in the Raniculaceae or buttercup family. It has dark green evergreen foliage and delicate white flowers resembling a wild rose. They are hardy to zones 3-4. Bloom times vary from November to February/March, depending on the location. They like semi-shade and grow well in sheltered areas in well-draining soils.

If you are fortunate enough to find one in your local store, not only will you have a conversation piece, you will be able to plant it outside in your garden and enjoy it for many years.

Links:

Photo credit: Sue Flinders Adams: After being purchased in a  grocery store in November/December, it was planted at Portage Lakehouse, Haliburton and bloomed under the ice and snow the following spring. Picture taken April, 2017.

‘Tis the Season … for Poinsettias!

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

When I was growing up, my mother always had a big green and red poinsettia sitting in the centre of the dining table during the holiday season. By the middle of January, it had lost all of its leaves so out it went in the trash. Oh yes, we also called it a “pointsetta”.

In Mexico, where it grows wild as a leggy shrub or small tree, the native plant (Euphorbia pulcherrima) has been associated with the Christian Christmas holiday since the 16th century. Thanks to Joel Robert Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, poinsettias were introduced to the United States in 1825. They did not really take off, though, until the California based Ecke family grew plants using a grafting technique discovered by Paul Ecke Sr. in the 1960s.  They began aggressively marketing the holiday season blooming poinsettia as a holiday tradition. In the 1980s, John Dole identified the technique used by the Ecke family to produce their compact poinsettias. This led to many more growers entering the retail market.

Poinsettias are members of the Euphorbia family. The brightly coloured “flowers” are actually bracts (modified leaves). Their bright colour helps to attract pollinators in the wild.poinsettia1

When purchasing poinsettias, look for an erect plant that has dark green leaves down to the soil and fully coloured bracts. The actual flowers, located at the centre of the bract, should be immature and red-tipped or green, not yellow with pollen because these more mature blooms will not last as long as the immature blooms. Plants displayed in plastic sleeves or crowded together may be stressed and deteriorate quickly after purchase. When purchasing any plant, always check for disease or insects. Yellow leaves, wilt or the presence of insects (check the underside of leaves too) always indicate problems and a plant that you do not want.

Poinsettias are not poisonous to humans but may cause pets to experience vomiting and diarrhea if consumed. Like all Euphorbia, damaged poinsettia stems and flowers exude a white sap that may cause skin irritation to susceptible individuals and pets.

There are over 100 varieties of poinsettias. They come in many colours from the traditional red to white, pink, cream and marbled or speckled.

Poinsettias prefer 6 hours of indirect light each day away from heat registers and cold drafts. Water the plant when it is dry but do not overwater because it may wilt and drop its bracts. (I think that is likely what happened with my mother’s poinsettias!) Allow the water to drain into a saucer after watering then discard this water. Do not let your plant sit in water. If you would like to keep your plant past the holiday season, fertilize it once a month with a houseplant fertilizer once the plant has stopped blooming.

Poinsettias may be put outside in the summer after all danger of frost has passed. But if you would like it to rebloom during the following holiday season, bring the plant back indoors before frost. Then, beginning in October, keep it in total darkness for 14 hours each night. The combination of total darkness and warm, bright days should cause the bracts to colour. This might be fun to try but to guarantee that you have a blooming poinsettia during the following holidays, purchase a new one and compost your old plant.

Poinsettias have long been associated with the holiday season. They come in several colours which will help to add holiday cheer to any home decor. Enjoy them while they last!

For more information on poinsettia care and reblooming, please see the links below.

10 Great Christmas Gifts for Gardeners!

 

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

It’s not too early to think of Christmas gifts for the special gardeners in your life. Every mini-cactus-755542_640gardener has a long list of things they wish they had because many of these items will make their gardening hobby just a little bit easier.  Also, most of them will rarely treat themselves.

Christmas gifts for gardeners can be purchased at nurseries that remain open in the fall, at local home & garden stores, online at Lee Valley Tools or via any other local or online suppliers.  Hopefully, the following suggestions will help you to surprise the green-fingered folk in your life.

  1. Plants! A small succulent planter, a unique and weird looking cactus, a fancy orchid, an amaryllis bulb or an african violet for indoors can spruce up a cold winter.
  2. Basic Garden Tools.  Who among us doesn’t need another/new garden tool?
    1. Lee Valley Root Knife (my go-to weapon)
    2. A new pair of secateurs (pruners).  My choice is the Felco #6, great for smaller hands.
    3. A padded garden kneeler or good quality set of knee pads
  3. Salves and Soap, Especially for Working Hands. There are many items like garden salves and soaps with hydrating formulas & great scents that will always be appreciated by anyone unwrapping them on Christmas Day.
  4. For our Feathered Friends. A  good squirrel-proof bird feeder or a birdhouse, and some good quality birdseed will go miles to attracting useful, pleasant-sounding visitors to your yard all winter.bird-feeder-4032907_960_720
  5. Magazines. A subscription to a Canadian gardening magazine about growing perennials or native plants or about water gardens is always appreciated and will delight the recipient monthly or bi-monthly.
  6. GLOVES!  My favourites are the nitrile Gardena brand — stretchy but grippy.  I go through several pairs of these each season.
  7. A transplant shovel, a new garden hoe or a step-on weeder. These items are not “must have” but “would be nice” so gardeners will rarely purchase them for themselves.  Believe it or not, there have been advances in these tools in the last 20 years!  For example, my favourite new shovel has a super-sharp cutting edge, and an enlarged “step on” bracket so the middle of my foot doesn’t get sore with heavy digging.  Very nice.
  8. Stocking Stuffers. Stocking stuffers of heirloom seeds, plant markers, a mini nail brush, some twine or plant ties are welcome unique gifts.
  9. A Year Round Gift. An inexpensive membership to local Horticultural Society like the Peterborough Horticultural Society offers you discounts at many local nurseries, plant exchanges, plant shows, socializing, and the opportunity to hear good speakers throughout the year. A great stocking stuffer for $20.
  10. PGS-logo-tinyA Garden Show! Treat someone to a trip to Canada Blooms or the awesome Peterborough Garden Show — $10 each for “enjoy all weekend” admission on April 24, 25 and 26, 2020; our 20th fabulous show!

So, why don’t you surprise your favourite gardener with a garden-related gift this Christmas season?  Hoping that this list helps with your decisions.  Happy shopping!

Holiday Cactus Conundrum

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Definition of conundrum
A confusing and difficult problem or question

Despite the shortening days and dark and dreary November weather, every year around this time I am delighted to see members in my various gardening groups posting photos of their “Christmas cactus” in bloom. The colours are many and varied – from red to pink to white to some lovely peach selections. People post amazing stories of plants being handed down from generation to generation and being over 100 years old.

The conundrum? They are generally not “Christmas cactus”. Since education is a big part of the role of Master Gardeners, I thought I would offer some explanation of the various types of indoor cacti we see here in Ontario (and Canada) and how to figure out what type of cacti you have!

There are actually three types of holiday cacti – all theoretically named for the time of bloom (although that gets messed up depending on whether you are north or south of the American/Canadian border!). The three types are:

  • Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata)
  • Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii [also S. buckleyi])
  • Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaetneri [also Hatiora gaertneri])
National Garden Clubs Inc.
Source: National Garden Clubs Inc.

They are all called “leaf cacti” because the plant bodies are flattened and the leaves are actually stems. These type of cacti are epiphytes from the tropical treetops of the rain forest and natural forests of Brazil and require similar care, even though they bloom at different times of the year. In their natural habitat, they grow on trees or rocks in habitats that are generally shady with high humidity, as opposed to their desert-dwelling cousins. So they don’t need bright sunlight and they don’t have nasty spines!

Most people have the Thanksgiving cacti, which bloom between November and January. Christmas cacti bloom in December, and Easter cacti in April/May.

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Thanksgiving cactus

The leaf stems (and to some extent the flowers) tell you which type you have, rather than the bloom time. Thanksgiving cactus is often known as “lobster cactus” because the edges of the leaves are hooked, giving them a claw-like appearance. The Christmas cactus has leaf projections which are more scalloped or tear drop shaped. The Easter cactus has very rounded edges which are centralized on the leaf.

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Christmas Cactus
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Easter Cactus

All three cacti are short day plants, so in order to induce the plant into bloom it must have 12 to 24 hours of darkness and cool temperatures. If you have put your plant outdoors over the summer or purchased it recently it should be kept in a cool, dark location until it sets buds. A seldom used bedroom or lower level is the ideal place. The Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti require approximately 6 weeks of short days in order to bloom (the Easter cactus requires 8 to 12 weeks to bloom). When the buds appear it can be brought into a warmer area. If it starts dropping buds it could be due to drafts, too-warm temperatures, too much water or direct sunlight.

FUN FACT! Unlike Christmas poinsettias, Christmas cacti are not toxic to dogs and cats, making this cat mum very happy.

Growing Tips

Since they are from the rainforest, they like acidic well drained soils. Use a cactus mix and add perlite, vermiculite and orchid bark. Do not overwater – why most of them die! Neglect is better than over watering. Water when the top 2 inches of soil is dry. Mist them frequently to increase humidity and fertilize them with a all purpose fertilizer. Those who hate repotting plants can take comfort in knowing that holiday cacti bloom best when they are slightly pot-bound and only need repotting every 3 or 4 years.

Common Problems

The most common issue you might face is dropping buds, which can occur when there is any type of change in the temperature, lighting, humidity, or the amount of water the plant is receiving. Try to keep the soil moist, the temperature a steady 15 to 20 degrees Celsius, no fertilizer in the late summer to fall months, and 14 hours of darkness each day. Other issues that could affect your cactus include stem rot (this fungal issue occurs when the soil is too damp – start a new plant before the infection spreads too far), root rot (happens if roots get soggy, so remove that root so it doesn’t go further up the stem, which might kill the plant), and Botrytis blight (which is grey mold and can be removed if discovered early).

When they have finished blooming, these cacti need at least two months rest. Give almost no water or fertilizer during this time. The Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti may bloom again in the spring, but probably with less (and smaller) blooms.

While holiday cacti appear to be a bit finicky, if you understand where they come from, and what they need to be happy, you may be able to successfully keep your holiday cactus for 100 years!