Holiday flower needs attention, care

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 5, 2010

NATCHEZ — Christmas is in full red bloom, and it can stay that way with a little TLC.

Poinsettias, the small Mexican shrubs that are traditionally spring and summer blooms that have been made to bloom during the holiday season, are a popular decorative, houseplant at Christmastime.

Tom Smith, who owns Fred’s Greenhouse in Natchez with his wife Rhonda, said the key to keeping the bloomers pretty until Christmas is starting with a healthy plant. That’s especially true since customers start purchasing plants soon after Thanksgiving, Smith said.

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At Fred’s, the secret is starting with a good cutting in August. The plants sold at Fred’s are all grown in a green house on the property, Smith said. Smith gets cuttings from Ecke Ranch.

Once cuttings arrive, the work really begins.

“We start them in mid-August when the summer is the hottest and the heat is just brutal on them,” he sia.d “They have to be watered four times a day for the first two weeks. All the plugs we get are babied and taken care of from the time they get here.”

That means many applications of fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides and pH balance checks, Smith said.

“We start with a good, quality plant so we can sell a good, quality plant to our customers,” Smith said.

When selecting a good quality plant, color matters, said Dick Thompson, owner of Live Oak Nursery and Garden Center in Natchez.

Thompson said the blooms on plants need to be deep in color and the leaves need to be a dark green color.

Live Oak Nurseries has been selling poinsettias for 31 years, Thompson said. He said customers also need to look closely at the plant to make sure it is fresh.

“You should look at the little buds inside the blooms, because they are going to be flowers as well once the plant matures,” Thompson said. “If all of those are still not open that means it is still growing and is going to last a long time.”

Once customers have a good plant to take home, Thompson said there are just a couple of rules to follow — adequate light and water.

“Don’t get water on the leaves, just on the soil,” Thompson said. “And they can be watered from the top or from the bottom like African violets.”

Smith said he has a trick for watering poinsettias that he likes to tell customers.

“Water with ice cubes,” Smith said. “If you water them too much they will die. If you water them too little they will die.

“But if you water them with ice cubes, the plant gets consistent water.”

Fred’s Greenhouse has been offering poinsettias since it opened 108 years ago, Smith said. Poinsettias are available there in 4-, 6-, 8- and 10-inch pots and in hanging baskets.

Live Oak offers 4- and 6-and-a-half inch pots. Shipments arrive each week, Thompson said.

Thompson said even after Christmas folks should hang on to the plants. He said the can be planted in the ground and will continue to grow and bloom.

“With a little attention and protection, they can survive our winters,” Thompson said. “In a pot they won’t survive, but planted in the ground and protected from the winds and cold, they can grow to be 10 to 12 feet tall.”