More than six million poinsettias are sold every year in the UK, most to die a slow, horrible death, due to unscrupulous retailers.
This Mexican native is not a plant for a beginner, especially if the plant has been bought from a retailer who puts profit first and not the welfare of the plant.
If the plants are being sold from an outside stall, or next to automatic doors, walk away. They hate huge temperature swings and cold draughts.
However, if you decide to take the plunge, here’s how to look after them:
1. Buy from a reputable garden centre or supplier who will know that the plant needs to be protected from an Arctic blast the minute you walk out of their premises.
2. Before you buy, test the soil. Poinsettias hate being overwatered, so that’s a bad sign, but so is bone-dry compost – it isn’t being looked after and will be stressed.
3. Overwatering leads to root rot and death – the root ball should neither soaking nor dry.
Take double care if the plant is in a decorative outer pot with no drainage.
When it does need watering, immerse the rootball in slightly tepid water, then let it drain thoroughly in a sink. Once a week should be enough.
4. Leaves are the first indicator that something is wrong.
Yellowing or falling leaves usually mean something’s gone wrong with watering.
Check how wet/dry the soil is. If it’s overwet, make sure it’s not sitting in water.
5. Poinsettias hate draughts - avoid fireplaces, open doorways, open windows or hallways.
6. Keep it in decent daylight – a windowsill is fine, as long as the window isn’t opened and bring it into the room at night so it’s not trapped behind curtains.
7. Poinsettias favour a temperature between 15°C and 20°C, so it should be fine in most living rooms.
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JOBS TO DO THIS WEEKEND
Lily of the valley (Convallaria) can be dug up, potted and forced in the greenhouse at this time of year. Rhizomes that are kept in a frost-free greenhouse over winter will stay in active growth, but given a little heat, they will be ready to flower shortly after replanting in the garden next spring.
Now can be a good time to dig up perennial weeds with long tap roots, such as dandelions and mallow, from newly cultivated areas.
Grey mould or Botrytis can be problematic in wet weather.
You can still order and plant container trees and shrubs, and large semi-mature specimens for planting later in the winter when bare-root plants are no longer available.
Heat and/or insulation will be needed to keep the greenhouse frost-free. A fan or paraffin heater should do the trick in small glasshouses. Maintaining higher temperatures will need more careful planning, and a better greenhouse heating system. Greenhouse insulation can help keep out the frost from the whole, or from a section, of the greenhouse.
Root cuttings can be taken now and throughout the winter. Papaver (perennial poppies), Verbascum (mullein) and Phlox are suitable examples.
Dig new flower beds as the weather allows.
Don’t work on them when it’s very wet, as walking on sodden soil can cause compaction.
Look out for crown rot and brown rots (sclerotinia) on died down perennials, especially if you are on a clay or poorly drained soil. Be aware that many diseases will overwinter in the soil or on plant debris. Antirrhinum rust and Delphinium black blotch, as well as sclerotinia, will lay dormant and re-infect plants when they come up the following year. It may be necessary to replant new specimens in another place if the problem is severe.
Digging the soil, especially bare patches or newly cultivated land, will expose pest larvae and eggs to birds and frosts, as well as clearing weeds and improving soil structure. Don’t leave soil uncovered for too long, however, as it runs the risk of erosion and washing away of valuable nutrients. Black polythene sheeting will protect it instead of planting or mulch.
Protect newly planted trees, hedges, and shrubs from wind and cold. A temporary netting windbreak is enough where there is no natural shelter. Straw, bracken, or something similar can be used to pack around deciduous plants and protect them from frost.