December 23, 2009

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Greenhouse growers cause poinsettias to bloom, change from green to bright red, white, pink or other colors in time for Christmas by carefully controlling total daytime hours of light with dark shrouds, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service experts. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo by Dr. Karl Steddom)

Poinsettia death trip: Most consumers kill their poinsettias with neglect in about two weeks

By Robert Burns
Texas AgriLife Extension Service

After East Texas growers take great pains to produce beautiful poinsettias, plants free of diseases and pests that could live for years, most consumers will take the plants home and kill them within a couple of weeks due to improper care, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service experts.

"Poinsettias are not poisonous. That's an urban myth," said Dr. Karl Steddom, AgriLife Extension plant pathologist. "But from a poinsettia's viewpoint, most consumers are lethal. Consumers don't mean to kill the plants. They just don't know how to take care of them."

Each year, East Texas plant nurseries will produce several million poinsettias in 6-inch pots for the holiday season, according to Steddom.

"Color Spot Nurseries in Troup alone will market more than a million poinsettias this year," said Dr. Scott Ludwig, AgriLife Extension integrated plant management specialist. "And that's only one of many nurseries in Cherokee County."

Both Ludwig and Steddom, who are based at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton, work closely with the ornamental plant growers in northeast Texas, whose sales total more than $500 million annually, they said.

East Texas growers may start work with holiday season poinsettias as early as June or as late as August, Ludwig said.

"It's complicated, as some may start with pre-rooted cuttings, others may purchase unrooted cuttings and root their own, and still others may grow their own poinsettia root stock plants and take cuttings from them to root," he said.

Because of labor costs and the need of dedicated facilities, the more common method is to start with cuttings which are usually imported. The cuttings usually come pre-rooted in "Oasis Cubes," a small block of foam similar to that used by floral designers to hold flower arrangements. The cubes are sterile and can be saturated with water, but drain well.

Keeping the growth medium as clean as possible is important, because poinsettias can be host to a multitude of plant diseases, including molds, foliar diseases, blights and root rot. None of the diseases are of any risk to human health, but they can reduce the attractiveness of the plant, Steddom said.

The cubes are planted into growth medium, most commonly in 6-inch pots. Again, to limit soil-borne diseases, clean potting soil is used.

Insects can be a problem, particularly whiteflies, but not if growers keep a close eye on their crop and take prophylactic measures, Ludwig said.

Another growing demand involves "black-clothing." The time which poinsettias bloom is determined by daylight hours. Poinsettias are native to Mexico, where changes in daylight cause them to turn from green to bright red right before Christmas, Ludwig said.

"We say 'bloom' but that's actually a misnomer, because it's the leaves that change color, not the bloom," Ludwig said. "But in most of the U.S., growers have to cover their greenhouses in light opaque shrouding to cause the plants to change color in time for the holiday season."

Growers will typically black cloth in stages, timing the operation so that some poinsettias change color by November for Thanksgiving, then at other times for various shipping periods up to Christmas, Ludwig said.

Of all the plant diseases to which poinsettias are susceptible, pythium root rot is probably the most common, Steddom said.

"Every year, some producers have at least small losses to pythium root rot," Steddom said. "The pythium organism can be found everywhere, but it is encouraged by over-watering and poor drainage," Steddom said.

Proper watering methods are essential. And as the disease is water borne, so growers have to take precautions about the disease being transmitted from one pot to the other by drainage.

Pythium root rot is also the most common scourge of poinsettias in the home, Steddom said. The slick holiday paper wrapped around pots prevents drainage. On top of that, consumers are prone to over-watering the plants.

"If they want to keep their poinsettias alive, remove the wrapper as soon as possible," Steddom said. "And don't over-water. Simply stick your finger in the soil and if it feels damp, don't water it. If you let the pot sit in standing water for any length of time, you'll probably kill the plant."

Steddom said they can put the holiday wrapper back on after they let the pot drain.

"Except in South Texas, where poinsettias might survive in an outdoor landscape, to keep the plants alive, consumers are going to have to give them lots of light and keep a close eye on soil moisture levels," Ludwig said.

Poinsettias can be made to re-bloom for the next Christmas season, but it's an arduous chore, Ludwig said.

The plants need about 14 hours of darkness alternated with 10 hours of bright light for eight to 10 weeks, he said. Even a few hours of too much light will scuttle the process. The temperature has to be regulated too.

"Most people will kill the plant trying to get it to re-bloom," Ludwig said. "Considering all the work that goes into commercially grown poinsettias and the low cost consumers pay for them, it's easier to just compost them and buy a new plant the next holiday season."

The compost heap
Texas persimmon

"So, what's the botanical name of Texas persimmon — Diospyros texensis? ("Did You Know...," December 16, 2009)," writes Ann S. Lamb. "And where do you get the plant?"

Diospyros texensis is correct. Plants are not rare and can be found at most Texas nurseries that specialize in native Texas plants. — Chris S. Corby, Publisher


Gardening tips

"When growing cilantro to have plants longer cut back a handful of the cilantro, wash and throw in a freezer bag, adding to the bag as you get new growth but leaving some leaves on the plant each time," writes Gwen Ochoa. "As the plant grows you can add to the bag. Crunch up the bag to chop the cilantro before using. Use the cilantro by grabbing a fist full of cilantro  and adding it to your salsa, pinto beans and any other spicy dish you choose. You can have fresh frozen cilantro long after your plants are gone."

Have a favorite gardening tip you’d like to share? Texas Gardener’s Seeds is seeking brief gardening tips from Texas gardeners to use in future issues. If we publish your tip in Seeds, we will send you a free copy of Texas Gardener's 2010 Planning Guide & Calendar. Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.

Did You Know...

When it comes to providing winter shelter to butterfly eggs, caterpillars and chrysalises, tidiness doesn’t pay. When you trim back your plants and dispose of the trimmings, you are carting off many of next year’s butterflies. Consider leaving some plants untrimmed and fallen leaves on the ground. If you must be tidy, consider waiting until late winter or early spring to trim things back and place the material in the compost pile. That way, most of the potential butterflies will have a much better chance of emerging from the debris.

Upcoming garden events

Nacogdoches: The SFA Gardens will host its monthly Les Reeves Garden Lecture Series at 7 p.m. Thursday, December 17, in room 110 of the Agriculture Building on Wilson Drive on the SFA campus. Dr. Dave Creech, director of the SFA Gardens, will present SFA Gardens — Plants and Plans. Dr. David Creech, Regent’s Professor, has been at Stephen F. Austin State University since 1978 and is director of the SFA Mast Arboretum and Ruby Mize Azalea Garden, and co-directs the Pineywoods Native Plant Center with Dr. James Kroll. Dr. Creech received his B.S. and Ph.D. in Horticulture from Texas A&M University and his M.S. from Colorado State. His research effort has focused on blueberry germplasm and production studies, alternative crop/alternative technology, crop nutrition, and evaluation of new plant materials for the South. A free plant raffle will be held following the lecture. There is no charge for the lecture and no reservations are required. The Les Reeves Garden Lecture Series is held the third Thursday of each month at the SFA Mast Arboretum Nacogdoches. For more information, contact Greg Grant at (936) 468-1863 or

Austin: "Building and Maintaining a Compost Pile" will be presented from 11 a.m. until noon, January 6, at the Demo Garden, Texas AgriLife Extension Office of Travis County, 2100 B Smith Road, Austin. This seminar will help you gain knowledge about the steps required to convert vegetable matter and other waste into compost, a desirable soil amendment. Learn about the various types of compost bins and their merits. The seminar is free and requires no reservations. It is presented by the Travis County Master Gardeners Association. For more information, visit

Kemah: "Bromeliads" will be presented by Phil and Carol Spears at the Wednesday, January 6 meeting of the Kemah-Bay Area Garden Club. The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Jimmie Walker Community Center, 800 Harris Avenue, Kemah. Light refreshments will be served. The public is invited. For additional information, contact Mary Ellen Chapman, president, at (281) 559-1912.

Kingsland: Join Master Gardener Robert Yantis for “Living with Purple Martins” and learn about our beautiful springtime visitors at a program presented by the Kingsland Garden Club on Friday, January 8 at 1:15 p.m. at the Kingsland Library, 125 W Polk St. Visit the Kingsland Garden Club Web site to be put on the reminder email list to be notified a week before these presentations:

Houston: Urban Harvest's annual fruit tree sale will take place from 8 a.m. until noon, January 9, at the Rice University Football Station Concourse, Houston. The 2009 sale featured almost 6,000 trees and berries and the organizers except even more tree for this sale. For additional information, visit

Pearland: The Harris County Master Gardener Association will present a program on fruit tress for Harris County, from 6:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. Tuesday, January 12, at Bass Pro Shops, Highway 288 at the Sam Houston Tollway, Pearland. This lecture is free and open to the public. For more information, visit

Seabrook: Dr. Paul Nester, Entomology Specialist for Harris County Extension Service, will present a program on Rasberry Crazy Ants, a new, exotic, invasive pest and species found in Houston in 2002. Dr. Nester will speak on identification, harm the ant does, and management of the ant. His presentation begins at 10 a.m., January 20, at The Meeting Room at Clear Lake Park (on the lakeside), 5001 NASA Road 1, Seabrook. For more information, visit

Houston: Urban Harvest will host "Food for Thought," a new, thought-provoking series of panel discussions on today's hot topics that support growing and eating locally. The panels will be lead by local and regional experts, are scheduled for the third Wednesday of each month, and began November 18. Each evening will begin at 7 p.m. with a brief period to socialize, then a panel discussion from 7:15 until 8:15 followed by a Q&A session until 8:45. Upcoming dates and topics are: January 20, "Living the Locavore Life," and February 17, "Tools of the Trade." For additional information, including event location, call (713) 520-7111.

College Station: "Get Your Earth-Kind Garden Growing" will be presented by Dr. David Reed, Dr. William Welch, Sharon Banister and Brazos County Master Gardeners, from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., Saturday, January 23, in the Senior Circle Room, College Station Medical Center, 1651 Rock Prairie Road, College Station. The seminar includes a hands-on propagation workshop. $25 per person. Preregistration is preferred. For additional information, visit

Marble Falls: The Highland Lakes Master Gardeners will present a free Green Thumb public program "All About Hill Country Roses" with Master Gardener Sheryl Yantis, where you can learn about choosing roses, soil preparation, planting and pruning tips for beautiful low maintenance roses in the Hill Country, at the Marble Falls Library, 10:30 a.m., Saturday, January 23. For additional information, visit:

New Braunfels: Comal Master Gardeners are now accepting applications for their Spring 2010 Training Class beginning January 27 and ending May 12. Applications are currently on the Comal Master Gardener Web site at: Applications will be accepted until December 15; however, the class is limited to 30 people and applications are accepted in the order they are received. The class usually fills to capacity, so early registration is important. The class meets each Wednesday afternoon from 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. beginning January 27. The cost of the 16-week course is $150 and includes the Master Gardener Handbook published by Texas A&M, propagation supplies, and all other materials. The $150 is payable on the first class day in January. Topics covered in the class include Plant Growth and Development; Compost, Soils, Irrigation, and Fertilizers; Roses; Annuals, Perennials, and Bulbs; Organic Vegetable Gardening; Landscape Trees; Propagation; Fruit and Nut Production; Wildscapes and Native Plants; Pests and Diseases; Xeriscapes; Turf Grass; Home Landscapes and more. Speakers include professors from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M System; Texas State University faculty and retired professors, specialists in the gardening field, and Master Gardener specialists. For additional information, call (830) 620-3440 or email Classes are held at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, 325 Resource Drive, New Braunfels.

Buchanan Dam: Master Gardener Robert Yantis will present "Living with Purple Martins" at a free Green Thumb program as part of the Lakeshore Library Speakers Series, at 2:30 p.m., Tuesday, February 9, at the Library located 7346 Hwy 261, 3.6 miles past the intersection with RM 1431 in Buchanan Dam.

Houston: The River Oaks Garden Club will host the 75th Anniversary Azalea Trail. March 5, 6, and 7. Azalea Trail features tours of four private homes and three well-known historic sites: Bayou Bend, Rienzi and River Oaks Garden Club Forum of Civics Building and Gardens. Tickets for seven admissions: $15 before March 1, $20 during the event, or $5 per location. For additional information, visit or call (713) 523-2483.


Rockport: The Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardeners meets at 9 a.m. the first Tuesday of each month at the AgriLife Extension Office - Aransas County, 611 E. Mimosa, Rockport. For additional information, e-mail or call (361) 790-0103.

Kilgore: Northeast Texas Organic Gardeners meets at 10 a.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at Wildwood Eco-Farm in Kilgore. For more information, call Carole Ramke at (903) 986-9475.

Allen: The Allen Garden Club meets at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month, February through December, at the Allen Heritage Center, 100 E. Main St., Allen. For more information, visit

Austin: Austin Organic Gardeners meet at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin. For more information, visit

Pearland: The second Tuesday of each month the Harris County Precinct 2 Master Gardeners hold a free evening educational program for the public, called the Green Thumb Series, at Bass Pro Shop, Highway 288 at Sam Houston Tollway, Pearland. For more information visit or call (281) 991-8437.

Schertz: The Guadalupe County (Schertz/Seguin) Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT) meets the second Tuesday of each month except July and August at the library, 798 Schertz Parkway, Shertz. A plant exchange and meet-and-greet begins at 6:30 p.m. followed by a program at 7 p.m. For additional information or an application to join NPSOT, contact

Rockport: The Rockport Herb & Rose Study Group, founded in March 2003, meets the second Wednesday of each month, with the exceptions of June and July, to discuss all aspects of using and growing herbs, including historical uses and tips for successful propagation and cultivation, meets at 619 N. Live Oak Street, Room 14, Rockport at 10 a.m. Sometimes they take field trips and have cooking demonstrations in different locations. For more information, contact Linda (361) 729-6037, Ruth (361) 729-8923 or Cindy (979) 562-2153 or visit

Beaumont: The Jefferson County Master Gardeners meet at 7 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at the AgriLife Extension Office, 1225 Pearl Street, Suite 200, Beaumont. For more information, call (409) 835-8461.

Brownwood: Brown County Master Gardeners Association meets the second Thursday of each month, from Noon to 1 p.m., at the Brown County AgriLife Extension Office, 605 Fisk, Brownwood. For additional information, call Freda Day (325) 643-1077, or Mary Engle (325) 784-8453.

Georgetown: The Williamson County Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas meets from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at the Georgetown Public Library, 402 W. 8th Street. Georgetown. For additional information, contract Billye Adams at (512) 863-9636 or visit

Orange: The Orange County Master Gardeners meet at the Salvation Army in Orange on the second Thursday of each month. A covered-dish dinner at 6:30 p.m. is followed by a speaker and business meeting at 7 p.m.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Herb Society meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the San Antonio Garden Center, 3310 N. New Braunfels (corner of Funston & N. New Braunfels). For more information on programs, visit

College Station: The A&M Garden Club meets on the second Friday of each month during the school year at 9:30 a.m. at the Senior Circle Rooms, College Station Professional Building II, 1651 Rock Prairie Road, College Station. Expert speakers, plant sharing, and federated club projects help members learn about gardening in the Brazos Valley, floral design, conservation topics, and more. For more information, visit

Dallas: The Rainbow Garden Club of North Texas meets the second Sunday of each month at 2 p.m. Everyone is welcome. Meetings are held at member’s homes and garden centers around the area. For more information, visit

Cleburne: The Johnson County Master Gardener Association meets at 6 p.m. on the third Monday of each month. The public is invited to attend. There is an educational program each month preceding the business meeting. For information on topics call (817) 556-6370 or visit

Sugar Land: The Sugar Land Garden Club meets on the third Tuesday of each month, September through November and January through April at 10 a.m. at the Sugar Land Community Center, 226 Matlage Way, Sugar Land. The club hosts a different speaker each month. For more information, visit

Denton: The Denton Organic Society, a group devoted to sharing information and educating the public regarding organic principles, meets the third Wednesday of each month (except July, August and December) at the Denton Senior Center, 509 N. Bell Avenue. Meetings are free and open to the public. Meetings begin at 7 p.m. and are preceded by a social at 6:30. For more information, call (940) 382-8551.

Glen Rose: The Somervell County Master Gardeners meet at 10 a.m., the third Wednesday of each month at the Somervell County AgriLife Extension office, 1405 Texas Drive, Glen Rose. Visitors are welcome. For more information, call (254) 897-2809 or visit

Granbury: The Lake Granbury Master Gardeners meet at 1 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at the Hood County Annex 1, 1410 West Pearl Street, Granbury. The public is invited to attend. There is an educational program each month preceding the business meeting. For information on topics call (817) 579-3280 or visit

Seabrook: The Harris County Precinct 2 Master Gardeners hold an educational program at 10 a.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at The Meeting Room at Clear Lake Park (on the Lakeside), 5001 NASA Road 1, Seabrook. The programs are free and open to the public. For more information, visit

Houston: The Native Plant Society of Texas — Houston (NPSOT-H) meets at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month except for October (4th Thursday) and December (2nd Thursday). Location varies. For locations, for more information on programs, and for information about native plants for Houston, visit

Rosenberg: The Fort Bend Master Gardeners meet at 7:15 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month except December at the Bud O’Shieles Community Center located at 1330 Band Road, Rosenberg. For more information, call (281) 341-7068 or visit

Seguin: The Guadalupe County Master Gardeners meets at 7 p.m. the third Thursday of each month,  except December, at the Texas AgriLife Extension Bldg. at 210 E. Live Oak, Seguin. An educational program preceeds the business meeting. The public is invited to attend. For topic or other information, call (830) 379-1972 or visit

Edna: The Jackson County Master Gardeners present their "Come Grown With Us" seminars on the fourth Tuesday of each month, January through October, beginning at 7 p.m. at 411 N. Wells, Edna. The seminars are free, open to the public and offer 2 CEU hours to Master Gardeners or others requiring them. For additional information, contact the Jackson County Extension Office at (361) 782-3312.

Fort Worth: The Organic Garden Club of Forth Worth meets at 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month except July and December at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens main building. Refreshments are served. For more information, call (817) 274-8460.

Dallas: The Dallas Organic Garden Club meets at 6:45 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Fretz Park Recreation Center, located at the corner of Hillcrest and Beltline Road in Dallas. For more information, call (214) 824-2448 or visit

Arlington: The Arlington Organic Garden Club meets from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month (except November and December) at the Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center Street, Arlington. For more information, contact David at (817) 483-7746.

If you would like your organization’s events included in "Upcoming Garden Events," please contact us at Garden Events. To ensure inclusion in this column, please provide complete details at least three weeks prior to the event.

Texas Wildscapes:
Gardening for Wildlife

By Kelly Conrad Bender

NEW EDITION of the popular Texas Parks & Wildlife book, now with fully searchable DVD containing all the plant and animal information you need to customize your backyard habitat.

Whether you have an apartment balcony or a multi-acre ranch, the Texas Wildscapes program provides the tools you need to make a home for all the animals that will thrive in the native habitat you create.

In Texas Wildscapes, Kelly Conrad Bender identifies the kinds of animals you can expect when you give them their three basic needs: food, water, and shelter. She then provides guidelines for designing and planting your yard or garden to best provide these requirements for the many birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates the environment will attract.

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Wish you'd saved them?

Are you missing an important issue of Texas Gardener? Or, perhaps, just tired of thumbing through stacks of back issues looking for the tips and techniques you need to make your garden grow? These new CDs provide easy access to all six issues of
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Doug Welsh's Texas Garden Almanac

Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac is a giant monthly calendar for the entire state — a practical, information-packed, month-by-month guide for gardeners and "yardeners." This book provides everything you need to know about flowers and garden design; trees, shrubs, and vines; lawns; vegetable, herb, and fruit gardening; and soil, mulch, water, pests, and plant care. It will help you to create beautiful, productive, healthy gardens and have fun doing it.

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Texas Gardener’s Seeds
is published weekly. © Suntex Communications, Inc. 2009. All rights reserved. You may forward this publication to your friends and colleagues if it is sent in its entirety. No individual part of this newsletter may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher.

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