Mexican wave of fiery festive bracts in a pot

They might have their roots in central America, but don't keep them chilly.

They might have their roots in central America, but don't keep them chilly.

Carnations

BRIAN KIDD: Gardening galore for the long weekend

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It was wonderful to see so many of you at The News Christingle service at St Mary’s Church, Fratton.

Editor Mark Waldron was there and it was great to say hello to Marcus Patrick from the panto at the Kings Theatre. Also present was deputy lord mayor Cllr David Horne and his wife Mary, both special friends, as well as Father Bob White and his wonderful team.

I’d like to wish everyone a Happy Christmas and the best new year ever. Thank you for all your letters and cards

These events made me think of happy times as an apprentice when we grew hundreds of poinsettias for Christmas.

This is the time to buy a poinsettia. They’re so beautiful with three colours to choose from, but most people prefer red. The red bracts are at their best now although the flower is very small and at the bract’s centre.

Poinsettias are small evergreen trees which originated in Mexico and were introduced into English greenhouses in 1834. They have been hybridised. This means the breeders have selected strains which keep small and are easy to grow.

Buy one from a garden centre where they know how to look after plants. Don’t buy one from somewhere where the plants have been out in the cold. Why? The plant may have caught pneumonia.

How can we keep them going? Too much water is the main cause of failure. Keep them on the dry side. If in doubt, feel the top of the compost. If it’s dry put some water in a saucer and leave it for 10 minutes. The root will absorb all it needs.

Give it plenty of light, but not in a sunny window. A window with morning sun is OK, but even at this time of year a sunny window may be too hot. Try to keep the temperature above 50F (10C) at all times.

If the lower leaves turn yellow, the plant has been over-watered. Take off the yellow leaves and water when the compost feels dry.

Lots of people keep poinsettias for many years and they begin to get large. Prune in the middle of March. All shoots are cut back to half their length. The cuts will bleed white sap. Mop up with a tissue.

If you want to get the poinsettia to produce more bracts allow the plant to enjoy natural light from a window. It needs to be in a room where the light is never turned on. If left in a warm greenhouse in a temperature of 50F minimum the plant will produce red bracts about February.

How do they get them looking so good for Christmas? They are grown in greenhouses with extra light. The growers are clever as they use lighting to turn two days into one, but we won’t go into that here.

TIP OF THE WEEK

Tar oil winter wash for fruit trees has been withdrawn to be in line with the nanny state of things which won’t help us in the garden. There are alternatives. Look out for a wash in organic form such as Growing Success.

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