Poinsettia Blog

A common host gift we take to Holiday parties are Poinsettias. If you receive one for Christmas this year, do you know how to care for it? Poinsettias are a staple for the Christmas season, but they don’t have to be a short-lived gift that is thrown away at the beginning of the year.

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Red bracts and yellow flowers of a poinsettia

Typically, poinsettias are most commonly found in red, but the color range is expanding all the time. They can now be found in white, pink, green, or a marbled pink or marbled red. On an old-fashioned poinsettia, the red colored portion of the poinsettia is not actually the flower of the plant. The colored, leaf-like structures are actually bracts, which are modified leaves. The actual flower of a poinsettia is the yellow center of the colored bracts.

Poinsettias need to be cared for during transport and while in the home. When you first purchase a poinsettia, you need to protect it as you transport it. Wrap it in a plastic bag when you take it outside to protect the plant from the cold, windy outdoor conditions. This should be done when you leave the store, when you move it from your car to your home, and if you take it to another house as a gift. Once in its permanent location, remove the decorative foil wrapping from the pot of the plant. This foil can retain water for the plant, but in a bad way. It can make it so that the plant roots are constantly wet and root rot may occur.

The care of a poinsettia can be tricky as the plants tend to be particular. Water the plant when the soil becomes dry to the touch, but don’t wait until the plant wilts prior to watering again either. Place poinsettias where they receive indirect light for 6 hours a day. Keep the plant away from cold drafts and keep them from touching a window. This plant prefers temperatures of 60-70 degrees F during the day and 55 degrees F overnight. Do not fertilize poinsettias during the flowering period. Poinsettias can be fertilized monthly with a houseplant fertilizer during the rest of the growing season if you choose to keep it alive.

You can keep the poinsettia year round if you wish. After Christmas, care for the poinsettia as you would any other houseplant. Keep it evenly moist and in bright, indirect light. In February or March, cut back the plant to 4-6 inches in height. In May, repot into a larger container. It can be placed outdoors after the danger of frost has passed. In the fall, bring the poinsettia indoors before night temperatures drop below 55-60 degrees F.

To encourage poinsettia to bloom again, it takes a specific routine of light and darkness. Poinsettia flowering is induced by a photoperiods, like Christmas Cactus. It takes 12 hours of darkness per night to initiate flowering. Starting at the end of September, place the poinsettia in a closet or cover it with a black cloth to keep it in total darkness from 5pm until 8am the next morning. Even the lights in our homes can interfere with the flowering cycle of this plant, so it needs to be completely dark around the plant. Once the flowers begin to develop in mid-December, you do not need to continue the dark period. It will help, though, if you continue this until the bracts are fully expanded. Then, you can enjoy your poinsettia through the holiday season for years to come.



Flickr image courtesy of Shay Sowden per CC license

This winter has been exceptionally cold and full of snow and wind. With cold winters, our heating bills go up. One way many people try to spend less heating bills is to use wood burning stoves and fireplaces to supplement the heat inside our homes through the winter months. However, if the firewood is stored incorrectly insect issues can develop inside our homes.

Firewood Storage

Firewood should only be brought into the home as it is needed, only a few pieces at a time. Many insects lay their eggs or pupate within trees prior to or just after they have been cut down for firewood, the insects may still be inside the wood when you bring it indoors. When the wood warms up in your home, the insects can emerge. These insects rarely cause an infestation in your home or cause damage to your furniture or home structure, but can be a nuisance when they get into your home.

Be careful of how you stack your wood outdoors as well, to avoid problems with termites. If you stack your wood directly on the ground outdoors up against your home, you may be providing a highway for the termites to move from the ground to your home. The best practice for stacking firewood would be to stack it on a rack made out of steel or another material other than wood. Also, don’t stack your wood so that it is up against your home, shed, garage, or other building that termites can move into.

Insects in Firewood

carpenter ant
Carpenter Ant Photo Courtesy of UNL Department of Entomology

Carpenter Ants are commonly found in decaying wood. They do not feed on wood, but they dig into decaying wood to form galleries for their nests. Carpenter Ants are the large black or red ants often found on trees with decay because they are making a nest within that tree. In a house, carpenter ants can do damage if you have a leak which has caused wood in your home to decay. They can be brought indoors with firewood that they were living in.

There are many wood-boring beetles that are also found in firewood. Longhorned beetles, flatheaded borers, and bark beetles are all found in trees and logs cut for firewood. Females of these beetles are actually attracted to dying, freshly cut, or recently killed trees to lay eggs on the wood. These beetles can emerge in your home, but don’t usually cause problems in the wood products found within your home.

One common structure-infesting pest, a powderpost beetle, can get into your home, but they only lay their eggs on bare, unfinished wood. Wood that has been varnished, painted, or sealed is safe unless exposed surfaces appear.

Using Wood Ash in the Garden

Another issue I see with fireplaces is in the garden. People use the wood ashes on their gardens because the old saying is that it is good for the soil. It is true that wood ashes can be used on the garden, however, if the ashes are applied too often or too heavily it can damage the soil or plants growing in it. Ashes will raise the pH in the garden, making it more alkaline. However, in Nebraska soils it is not necessary to raise our naturally high pH. Adding nutrients to make the soil pH too high can be harmful for plant growth. Most Nebraska soils have a pH of 6.5 or higher and Illinois Extension recommends avoiding using ashes in your garden with this pH level. It is best to first get a soil test to know where your levels and your pH are at before you add ashes, or any fertilizer, to your garden. If you could benefit from ashes, only apply a little to the garden and use the rest in your compost pile where the nutrients can be beneficial.