The holidays are around the corner and choosing your poinsettia plants now gives you the pick of the best-quality plants. Here's what to look for: Select plants with dark green leaves and brilliant-colored bracts. Look for plants that haven't shed their pollen yet (check the bracts for yellow pollen stains). Plants that have already dropped their pollen will decline faster. Protect plants from freezing temperatures when you bring them home, and place them in an area that provides bright light, temperatures in the 60s, and high humidity.
Start Paper White Narcissus
One of the few bulbs that can be forced indoors without prechilling is paper white narcissus. Pot them up now to bloom for the holidays. Select an 8- to 10-inch-diameter pot and place bulbs close together in moist soilless potting mix. Place the pot in a warm, sunny window. As the flowers grow, support the stalks with chopstick-sized stakes to keep the plants upright.
Propagate African Violets
African violets make great houseplants and will flower in winter if given supplemental light. To propagate new plants, take a leaf cutting, dip the cut end in a rooting hormone powder, such as Rootone, and stick the cutting in a pot filled with vermiculite or sand. Cover the pot with a perforated, clear plastic bag and keep the soil moist. In a few weeks you'll have new plants.
Avoid Using Salt to Deice
Although salt does melt ice, it can also damage plant roots. Where possible, use sand or kitty litter to provide traction, or use one of the commercially available products made to melt ice without damaging plants.
During any warm (above 40 degrees F) days in December or January, spray newly planted broadleaf evergreen shrubs like rhododendrons and mountain laurel with antitranspirants to protect them from the cold and drying winds. You can also use the spray to prolong the life of wreaths.