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How to keep that beautiful poinsettia blooming

by Tina Sottolano Cain

Keeping your poinsettia alive until next Christmas is not as challenging as you may think. With a little knowledge of the history of the plant and a few easy growing tips you will have an easy time getting your poinsettia to bloom again.

The poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima is a tropical plant that is native to the southern region Mexico and was brought to the United States by the ambassador to Mexico Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1825.

The beautiful red color of its leaves known as bracts make this plant very unique. When grown in their native environment they traditionally grow in part sun and shade, and can grow up to 13 feet tall.

To keep your poinsettias looking good throughout the winter months give them a sunny, south-facing windowsill where it is bright, be sure the light is filtered and free of any drafts. You also want to keep the plant away from any heat vents as well. I find that keeping the temperature between 68-70 degrees is ideal.

Watering poinsettias can be challenging for many. Striking the right balance of moisture and humidity can make all the difference in keeping your plant looking happy and healthy. I recommend checking water regularly. Remove the foil cover from the pot, if you already haven’t. This will allow the plant to drain properly. Too often I have seen a poinsettia take a turn for the worse only to find out later that it has been sitting in a pool of water at the bottom of the foil cover. This will also allow for proper air flow around the base of the plant. Some of the warning signs are the lower leaves turning yellow and curling followed by dropping off. Allow plants to dry out between watering cycles. Never leave excess water in saucers and cache pots.

Continue with this practice until spring. Stop watering and allow the plant to dry out, leaving the stems to shrivel and leaves to drop. Place plant in a cool location where temperature ranges from 50-60 degrees. At the end of spring cut back stems to a couple of inches above the soil line and repot using fresh potting soil. Begin watering again and place plant outside for the summer months in a shaded location. Begin fertilizing using a 10-10-10 ratio weekly at the first sign of new growth. Mid-summer begin pinching off the tips from the top of the plant. This is the new growth you are taking off to promote side branching. You want to do this two times during the growing season before you bring the plant indoors in the fall. Place in a sunny location and continue to water and fertilize regularly.

In autumn move the plant to complete darkness between the hours of 5 pm and 8 am. This triggers the plant to change its growth pattern. Its bracts will change color from dark green to red and flower. Once the plants bracts have completely colored, typically in November, return to a sunny location and enjoy for another holiday season.

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Even after the holidays, the cactus lives on

by Tina Sottolano Cain

Zygocactus or Holiday Cactus is member of a small genus group of cacti called Schlumbergera that includes Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter cactus. They are a popular houseplant and very easy to care for. Cultivars are usually white, pink, orange, red, purple and even yellow. Easter or the Whitsun cactus are most commonly a scarlet red color.

If you are wondering why your cactus doesn’t bloom exactly during the Christmas holiday it may be one of two factors: timing; or you may have a variety specific to Thanksgiving.

The difference between the two plants is in the texture of the leaves. Typically the Christmas cactus has smooth edges. The Thanksgiving cactus has a more jagged leaf edge, thus giving it the name crab cactus because of its claw like texture. When shopping for either check the varieties. The Christmas cactus is usually labeled Schlumbergera x buckleyi.

Caring for this plant is simple. Despite being called a cactus they are native to Brazil and the South American rainforest so they require more water and humidity than a traditional cactus.

Give your cactus bright to medium indirect light indoors and water regularly. I recommend you check the soil and water when the soil feels dry. Fertilize monthly 20-10-20 water soluble at 1/2 the rate. I like to keep a calendar with a watering and fertilizer schedule. This allows you to see how often you are watering and can potentially prevent you from over or under watering. A few signs to look for are the leaves turning yellow or looking shriveled and dropping off.

In mid-spring place the cactus outside in a shaded location. It will love being outdoors when the air is warm and humid throughout the summer. Repot if necessary. Christmas cactus do not mind being pot bound, however if your plant has been in the original pot for a few years its time to repot and replenish with fresh potting soil.

Leave plant outside in summer until temps go down to 50 degrees. A cooling period signals the plant to begin a new growth cycle of setting buds to flower. At about six to eight weeks before Christmas, place the plant in a completely dark space where the temperature is 60 degrees (such as a closet or garage) for 12 hours each night. Be sure to bring the plant out to a sunny spot for the other 12 hours each day. And remember to keep plant away from drafty windows or you may loose those flower buds you worked so hard to get.

These simple steps will insure you have your Christmas cactus blooming at Christmas time

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Garden Minute: Lee Brothers Cranberry Farm

Lee Brothers has been in the business of growing cranberries for 126 years. Tina talks to Stephen Lee IV about what it means to be a part of that tradition.

Cranberries have been grown and harvested in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey for generations.

Always fascinated to learn how certain plants grow and their harvesting practices, I headed down to Lee Brothers Farm in Burlington County New Jersey. They are a family-owned farm where generations continue to work side by side growing and harvesting cranberries for over 100 years, since 1868.

Harvesting cranberries is a two year process, starting from the time the berries are planted to the time they are harvested starting in September through October. Each bog takes about two weeks to harvest.

Lee Brothers Farm is part of the Ocean Spray growers cooperative made up of 700 hundred growers in the US and Canada, growing cranberries as well as Chili and a handful of citrus growers in Florida.

Stephen Lee, the fourth generation at Lee Brothers Farm tells me that this two week harvest is a special time on the farm. “It is a romantic time of year for us. All the hard work in the two year period during the growing season culminates to this time, the two, two and a half weeks in October.” The family has been coming together for many generations for the harvest. “It’s like our Thanksgiving.”

The cranberries are grown in bogs, but not under water. Twice a year (once in the fall and then again in the winter to protect the buds that have formed for the next season) the bogs are flooded with 18 inches of fresh water.

Flower buds are formed on the plants for the next year after flowering and fruiting has occurred during the spring and summer growing season. During the growing season plants are fertilized and monitored for fungus and diseases. They use bee feeding barrels to keep the bees fed while they pollinate the cranberries.

A machine known as the “egg beater” loosens the berries from the vines. As cranberries are made up of four hollow chambers, once the bogs are flooded and the berries are freed, they will float to the top.

A box is formed in the bog and then the berries are funneled into the box. The berries are pushed or corralled toward the center. Lee tells me that you have to move the berries in a sequential form. Berries are pushed through the bog in a sweeping motion using a garden rake, while another person gently pushes the box toward the center.

“You don’t want to cough or choke the box. You don’t want to overwhelm the box with too much fruit or you will not be able to pump out any water,” he said. Once the berries are pumped out of the bog they are loaded onto a conveyor belt where they are then funneled into a truck to be taken to Ocean Spray for processing.

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In the Garden: Made in the Shade

Tina talks about the best plants to use for shady ground cover.