Question: I enjoy your newsletter. Every year we get a beautiful poinsettia and I really don't know how to care for it. An article on poinsettia care would be wonderful.
Answer: Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are common Christmas gifts that often don't make it until St. Patrick's Day. To give yours the best shot at survival, put it in a sunny location and keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. The leaves will probably drop in March or so. When that happens, don't panic. Reduce watering and place the plant in a cooler spot. After the last frost date, the poinsettia can go outside for the summer. With some sun it should leaf out and grow vigorously.
For more info on the care of holiday plants, check out Those Bloomin' Holiday Gifts.
Question: I live in Portland, Oregon, where the weather is generally mild, wet, and currently freezing. I planted many bulbs (daffodils, narcissus, and Japanese iris) in October about six weeks before the first frost both in the ground and in pots. Now the bulbs are all about 5 inches tall and I'm concerned they will die with the continued cold weather, snow, and ice. What should I do?
Answer: Bulbs that sprout prematurely are common. By January most spring bulbs have their shoots just at or below the soil surface ready to spring into action. Occasionally, impatient bulbs will poke a sprout above the ground to check things out, especially if late fall and early winter temperatures are mild.
Light frost may kill those sprouts but it won't affect the flowers because they remain a few inches below ground. To prevent any dieback, as well as serious injury from extreme cold, cover sprouting bulbs with mulch, compost, Christmas tree branches, or wreaths. Towards the end of winter, remove the coverings and allow the bulbs to emerge.
For your bulbs in containers, sprouting early is a much more serious problem. Repeated freezing and thawing will kill your bulbs. Check out December's article on Protecting Plants from Old Man Winter and this month's Readers' Best Container Gardening Tips article for ways to insulate your containers.