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Agriculture Today

Growing poinsettias

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December 28, 2011 | 2,476 views | Post a comment

Q. We were at a friend’s home where they had a poinsettia growing in their landscape. Do you just plant one in the yard or are there a lot of things you have to do to make it survive and re-bloom?

A. In three to five months -- sooner if you let it dry out or subject it to high or low temperatures -- after the holidays, the poinsettias will decline. At that time, you will have to decide what to do with the plant. I usually toss mine in the compost pile, but you could keep it alive through the summer and attempt to produce the colorful foliage for next year. It is not as difficult as it used to be, because the new selections are day-neutral and it is not necessary anymore to do the complete dark routine for 12 hours every day.

When the plant declines this spring, cut the stems back to 6 to 8 inches and place it outside in the soil or in a 5-gallon or larger container. A sheltered location in morning sun is ideal. Just water it through the summer and protect it from cold in the winter and your poinsettia could grow to be quite large and make a show every year. A poinsettia in the ground can be fertilized with half a cup of slow-release lawn fertilizer every three months. Use a water-soluble fertilizer every three to four weeks for plants in a container. Treated in this manner, your poinsettia may even outlast the other traditional holiday item with a long life, the holiday fruitcake.

Q. What are the white flowers blooming now on the top of grass-like stalks? They look lush and have a strange fragrance.

A. It sounds like you are describing paperwhites. They are related to daffodils. They naturalize easily in sun or partial shade and re-bloom every year in December or January. They are very drought-tolerant and are not bothered by pests or diseases. Deer will not even eat them. Most nurseries have the bulbs. Plant them now.

Q. Is it too late to plant that Crawford lettuce that you and KSAT weatherman Steve Browne talk about all the time on your TV gardening appearances?

A. No; spread the seed over prepared soil in full sun. Do not cover the seed. Crawford lettuce is just like all lettuce seed; it requires light to germinate.

Q. My neighbor and I are arguing whether pruning wounds on live oak trees need to be painted now or not. What is the answer?

A. I recommend that pruning wounds be painted on oaks immediately after the cut is made, whenever it is made. It is true that oak wilt is less likely to be spread during the hottest and coldest parts of the year, but why take a chance?

Q. Is it too late to apply a winterizer fertilizer to my lawn?

A. Since the hard freeze occurred in many areas of Texas, lawns are less efficient at utilizing the fertilizer, so I believe it is too late. Wait until May of next year to fertilize.

Q. What is the grass-like weed coming up in my lawn? It is very attractive. What would happen if I just mowed it instead of killing it with weed poison?

A. The grass could be annual bluegrass or rescue grass. It is attractive, especially in lawns that are thin because of the drought. As a weed it probably stresses the lawn, but it may be worth it to have a green lawn for part of the year. Keep it mowed to prevent seed production.

Calvin Finch is a horticulturist and the San Antonio Water System’s project director of regional initiatives and special projects. Hear him on “Gardening South Texas” on KLUP 930 AM radio Saturdays noon to 2 p.m., and 1-3 p.m. Sundays. Or, e-mail him at

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