Monthly Archives: December 2016

Growing Winter Tomatoes in Florida

Yes, you really can grow tomatoes here during winter. Like many plants that are normally considered annuals, backyard tomato plants will live for a couple of years here; and they consistently re-seed themselves. I had one tomato plant and one bell pepper plant that lived three years until pests attacked them.  I now have two tomato plants that recently came up as volunteers — one in my flower bed, and the other at the edge of my compost. The one in the flower bed now has tiny green tomatoes on it. Here they are:


Unfortunately, this nice tomato plant has come up within a couple of inches of an Easter lily (that is already about 6 inches tall) and among a group of Snow Drops. I’m wishing I had moved it while it was still very small. To move it now, may damage the roots of the Easter lily. I guess they will have to co-exist and as my mom used to say, “just get along together”.

The downside of growing them in my flower beds is that the grey water used by our sprinkler system will hit them. It’s fine for that water to hit the plant and the ground around the plant, but it’s definitely not good for it to be on fruits and vegetables. I’ll have to watch to see how high the sprinkler water goes, and I may need to remove the lowest hanging fruit.


While it’s true your tomato plants will produce fruit year-round here in central Florida, you may need to cover them in cold weather. We usually get our coldest nights in February. I’ve never covered mine, as I was too busy covering tropical flowering plants and shrubs, as well as the hydrangea and azaleas that I brought with me when we relocated. On those rare occasions, I did lose a few tomatoes, but the plants themselves recovered nicely.

How to Save Tomatoes From Damaging Weather

No matter where you live, if freezing temperatures or an early cold snap are predicted, you can go ahead and pick green or almost-ripe tomatoes. Wrap large ones in newspaper, and place them in a cool-to-warm (not too warm) dark place such as a basement or a closet. If you have a lot of little grape or cherry tomatoes, put them in a newspaper-lined basket or box, then cover them with newspaper. Forget about all these little guys for a few weeks, and soon you will have beauties like these:


Just for Fun

At farm stands in the South you may see signs for “Cukes, Maters, & Taters”. If you are from outside the Southern U.S., do you know what these are?





Poinsettia – How Not to Kill Them

No longer just the old familiar bright red, poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are available in a multitude of colors, from pink, white, deep rosy red, orange-red, to variegated pink and white, red and white, and now a yellowish white. I love them all, and just added three more to my collection: two of the red-and-white, and one of the pink-and-white. These are very small and still in pots until after the holidays. I sunk the two red & white ones, pot and all, into the beds leading up to our front door. The pink and white one is gracing a table on our lanai.

pink-white-mlm-c red-white-mlm-c

After the danger of freezing temperatures has passed, probably early March, I will plant them in my garden. The pink-and-white one will add a nice splash of color to my night garden that I am still creating in our back yard. What’s a night garden? Just wait for my post on that topic coming soon.

I have lost count of the questions I’ve been asked about how not to kill these beauties, so rather than take a chance on omitting someone, I’ll not mention the names of those who asked. What I will do is to share what I have learned about caring for poinsettia.

Did You Know the colored leaves are not the blooms? They are just leaves called bracts that turn gorgeous colors when the time is right. It is the shorter days of winter that cause the leaves to change. The internal changes that trigger the color change also tell the plant to form the flower buds. The flowers are quite small, and are easily missed. Here is one of my white poinsettia with buds almost ready to open:


Here’s a closer look at those tiny buds. They should be opening any day now.


This white poinsettia is in my back yard, and is now about 3-4 feet tall — they’re actually flowering shrubs. I took the photo below last December (2015). It doesn’t look so good this year. Between the invasive fern I planted near it and my not being able to work in the yard for several months, my larger poinsettias really suffered this year. They are tall and leggy from being almost smothered by Boston fern that grew to about 2 feet tall all around them. Now that I have removed most of the fern — I’m still working on it — they are putting out new growth along those leggy stems.  Here’s a photo of it before “The Invasion of the Fern”.


How to Care For Your Poinsettia:

Poinsettia, how we love them!  They are enjoyed by so many this time of year, yet so many are killed shortly after Christmas. Okay, maybe not intentionally killed– maybe loved to death by too much water or not enough light indoors. Many suffer from dry indoor heat, and are often neglected after the holidays. Could it be that we simply don’t know how to care for them? Nah, it couldn’t be that… well, maybe.

Hardiness:  Poinsettia are cold hardy in USDA Zones 9B – 11. I live in Zone 9, but will take no chances if we get below freezing temperatures, which we may get in February. They are happiest at temps above 50 F.

Light:  Poinsettia need full sun: at least 6 hours per day.

Water:  The soil should feel moist and cool when touched, but not soaking wet; too much water is as bad, if not worse than too little. If your potted poinsettia feels very lightweight when you pick it up, it probably needs water. Just feel of the soil to see if it is dry. If it needs water, take it to a sink and water it well, allowing the excess to drain away.

Be sure to remove the decorative foil that comes with most poinsettia purchased during the holidays when watering these delicate plants. This is true for any potted plant — those foil wrappers are death traps, as they allow the plant to sit in water that has escaped the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. You definitely want this water to be able to drain away completely. If you are diligent about checking for water collected in the foil wrapper, you could leave the foil on, but only if you know you will remember to check on it. Will you remember if the phone rings or the baby cries or the doorbell rings? Not me. So I remove the foil during the watering process, then replace it after I’m done. On the other hand, if I have a pretty cache pot to put the ugly plastic pot into, I trash the foil and use the pretty pot.

Enjoy your holiday flowers, and your holidays.

Merry Christmas!  and  Happy Hanukkah!