Tag Archives: flowering shrubs

Wordless Wednesday – Angel Trumpet

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!



Why Won’t My Hydrangea Bloom?

Amy N. told me about her hydrangea with lots of beautiful deep green leaves, and nothing else. Not a single flower. Nada. “Why won’t my hydrangea bloom?” she asked. I had a mental picture similar to the one below:

Hydrangea Leaves 2

After questioning her, and establishing that it gets the proper amount of shade vs. sun, is in good soil, and was covered during our last cold spell, I asked when she last pruned it. She had pruned it in the spring.

I suspect that is the problem, or at least part of the problem. Because the huge blossoms grow only on new growth, springtime pruning removes the flower buds that may not even be visible yet. Simultaneously, late winter pruning of old wood may cause the same problem because it is the old wood that carries the new stem and leaf buds from which the flower buds will emerge.

After asking if it is likely to outgrow it’s available space, and learning it has plenty of room to grow quite large, I suggested she not prune it at all. Of course, she may want a few blossoms to put into a vase in her home. After it blooms, she will need to remove any spent flowers in the late summer or fall. Removing spent blooms encourages more flowering.

I like to cut hydrangea flowers for indoor arrangements. Cut them when the flowers are at their peak, and they will last for weeks. They won’t wilt as most cut flowers do. Instead, they will gradually dry out, and make great dried flowers, too. The photo below is of some white Annabelles I grew in my yard in Alabama.

White Annabelles turn a lovely sage green as they dry.

White Annabelles turn a lovely sage green as they dry. This dried flower arrangement lasted about 6 months.

Another possibility for the lack of flowers could be too much nitrogen. Amy top-dressed her hydrangea with Black Kow. Composted cow manure has lots of nutrients, but is typically low in nitrogen, so that’s not likely to be the problem. It could be that any other fertilizer or plant food she may have used, or that may have been used on the lawn near the hydrange is too high in nitrogen for flowering shrubs.

Remember “NPK” the letters that are represented by the numbers on fertilizer bags? NPK stands for nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium(K); and the numbers will always appear in that order. The numbers indicate the percentage of each nutrient that is present in the bag. Nitrogen produces very green grass, as well as more leaves and top growth on plants. Phosphorous produces more flowers and fruit, and strengthens root development. Potassium produces strong healthy plants.

A fertilizer numbered 26-3-3, or any combination with a larger amount of nitrogen is a good fertilizer for turf grass, but NOT for flowering plants. For flowers and flowering shrubs a fertilizer with a higher middle number (phosphorus) is needed.  Some examples of this are 15-30-15 and 5-30-5.

With tomatoes, too much nitrogen will produce lots of pretty leaves, but a less than normal amount of fruit. I suspect that is what’s going on with Amy’s hydrangeas.


White Lacecap and Purple Annabelle Hydrangea

Pink Annabelle Hydrangea

These pink Annabelle Hydrangea are beginning to change color because I’ve been sprinkling used coffee grounds around them. The more acidic the soil, the bluer they become.