Poinsettias—they’ll bloom beyond the holidays!
Let’s dispel the myth that too often causes many a beautiful Poinsettia to be trashed as soon as the holidays are over. They are not poisonous. A study fed a group of rats a lot of poinsettia leaves—must be an acquired taste—and nary a rat got sick. The current estimate is that a fifty-pound child would need to consume 500 of the flower bracts (POISINDEX® Information Service) to get sick which means you’ll need about 100-150 plants in the house! That out of the way, let me to suggest that your poinsettia would make a wonderful houseplant through the winter, then a fine garden plant through the summer, and an ideal candidate for reblooming during the 2014 holidays.
Here are some basic culture tips gleaned from the Internet and personal experience. If you’ve yet to purchase a plant, look for squat and well-branched specimens rather than tall leggy ones. Make sure the majority of the leaves (read: 99%) are deep green and turgid (meaning stiff, not limp) and that few leaves are yellowed and wilted. Also, keep the plant well-watered through the holidays, away from extremes of temperature (actually a bit on the cooler side is better).
Now, once the holidays are over, you can successfully keep your poinsettia in bloom following a few simple steps. 1) Keep the soil moist; never allow it to dry out, 2) give the plant six or more house of indirect, bright, natural light, 3) maintain day temperatures of 65 to 70 and at night 60 to 65 degrees, 4) apply a balanced house plant fertilizer every month as directed on the package, and maintain vigor by removing damaged or diseased leaves.
As noted above, the flower bracts may stay for a very long time—I once maintained the red bracts on a poinsettia until early June—but as they fade they should be removed, including a portion of the stem. You can do this cutting back all the way up until July depending on how big you want the plant next holiday season. Just be sure to always leave three to five leaves on each stem. Once weather is stable, repot to the next larger pot, use new soil mixed with peat and perlite (so it’s light and well-drained) and move the plant outdoors—I plunge mine into the soil in a bright southern exposure.
Apply a slow release fertilizer to the soil surface. Pinch every six weeks up until late August for shape. Do not pinch any later than this and make certain you heed the following rules about darkness.
Poinsettias are short-day plants much like hardy mums. Both set buds and produce flowers as the autumn nights lengthen, blooming naturally during October–November (mums) or December for poinsettias. To flower and develop colored bracts, a poinsettia must receive as much sunshine as possible during the day but starting October 1, it also needs at least fourteen hours of uninterrupted darkness each night at temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees. Stray light of any kind (street lights, pool lights or lamps) could delay or entirely halt the reflowering process. Place the plant under a wastebasket or box that is totally dark.
The dark treatment should last until color shows in the bracts (approximately Thanksgiving). Some modern cultivars may show color as much as two weeks before Thanksgiving. Continue fertilizing and watering to encourage good growth. If you follow these rules faithfully, you’ll be proud to say next December “I grew this poinsettia!”
Living Without My Car
December 1st Update
Q: I have two older toys: a tin mechanical Ferris wheel and a rocket ride. Both are in their original boxes and in excellent condition. I would like to know the value of each so I can sell them. -- Connie, Surprise, Ariz.
A: One of the best sources for vintage toys is Ted Hake, an expert and collector who conducts periodic auctions. He purchases vintage toys and also consigns certain items to his auctions. Contact Hake c/o Hake’s Americana and Collectible Auction, P.O. Box 444, York, PA 17405; Ted@hakes.com; and http://www.hakes.com.
Q: I would like to find out more information about Bernie, the Albuquerque man who contacted you about an old clock that is designed to look like a miniature fireplace. I have been looking for just such a clock for a long time and hope you can put me in contact with him. -- Jo Ann, West Warwick, R.I.
A: When I answer a letter from a reader, it is immediately shredded. If it is an email, it is deleted. This is done for security purposes. About 25 years ago, I published an item about a woman who had a doll collection. I shared her address with another reader, and several weeks later she was burglarized and her dolls stolen. That taught me a valuable lesson. I simply don’t share this type of information so I can’t help you, except to report that several such clocks are available on eBay, as mentioned in my original column.
Q: I have two tables that were made by the Fine Arts Company of Grand Rapids, Mich. They appear to be either end or tea tables. My question is whether they are real Duncan Phyfe pieces. -- Linda, Sarasota, Fla.
A: I examined the pictures you sent, and the answer is no.
Duncan Fife moved from Scotland to New York in 1791. Several years later, he changed his name from Fife to the more elegant Phyfe and listed himself as a cabinetmaker. Within a decade, he was building and designing furniture. All authentic Duncan Phyfe pieces are from this early period. Your pieces are, of course, from a much later, since the Fine Arts Company of Grand Rapids operated from 1925 until it eventually closed in 1977.