THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!!
Thank you to everyone who has helped us to make our first year at the Good Earth Farm and Garden Center so successful! Our goal is to build a community that cares for the health and well-being of all members of the community – including the plants, animals, humans and – yes! – the soil’s residents as well. Thanks to all of you, we’re well on our way.
We have LOTS of new projects and programs planned for 2024, but I thought it might be worth-while to get some basic information out on three of the classic flowering plants often added to homes this time of year. These are the Poinsettias, Amaryllis (my personal favorite!) and Cyclamen that add such critical color and cleaner air to our homes. It’s very easy to see these plants as disposable – and that’s ok if that’s what works for you. Recycling and composting are part of the natural cycle of life. But…if you would rather take these plants on in to the future…you might like some background information to make that transition more successful!
Before we get to the specifics – here are some plant care generalities:
All of the classic holiday plants should be kept away from your house pets – especially if your pets are young or bored. Kittens and puppies are much more likely to get in to trouble with plants of any kind since they nibble on all kinds of things as they learn about their world. The plants themselves may cause problems and the plants may have been sprayed with insecticides and fungicides during their production.
Hyper dry air created by wood and pellet stoves can often cause enormous stress on houseplants of all kinds. Anyone who’s visited the store knows that we have most of our houseplants behind the glass of our greenhouse case. The only plants out on the floor are the cactus and succulents – and the ponytail palm…Our pellet stove hyper dries our air too!!
Most of the plants you purchase whether for holiday color or not need damp/dry roots. VERY few like it wet so watch out for pooling water in foil covered pots. Make sure to empty out the foil after each watering or punch holes in it to allow for drainage.
Now that those basics are out of the way – let’s get to the plants!
First up are the POINSETTIAS.
Everyone knows them and they are available everywhere. They’re colorful, reasonably drought and dry air tolerant although hyper dry air from wood and pellet stoves can cause leaf edge browning.
NASA research points out the value of poinsettias in cleaning your air so that may balance the care needed with your house pets. Two of these plants can clean 100 square feet of space of formaldehyde, making them useful in the fight against indoor air pollution.
Real growth for poinsettias occurs during the summer when you can kick them outside, pot them up, PRUNE them (or they get VERY leggy), feed them and otherwise treat them just like a normal plant. Poinsettias naturally bloom when the nights get longer – 12-15 hours of darkness are needed for the plants to set flower. This makes them easy to rebloom if you have a room that only has natural light (no reading or other lights). An unused bedroom facing away from street lights works well. You can also stick them in a closet at 4pm and take them out again at 7am the next day. It takes 6-8 weeks of long nights (so October and November) to get the plants back to bud development and it’s a real coup when you pull it off!!
You can grow these plants from single stem cuttings (the classic Christmas purchase) to a really nice bush of a plant (remember that summer pruning – essential for a good look). It will have smaller flowers but many more of them and the result looks pretty cool if different from the original “look” you purchased. One botanical fact to note is that the colorful “flowers” are actually converted leaves or bracts that frame the flowers. The true flowers are the little yellow almost invisible dots inside the colorful frame of the bracts. No worries if you notice them or not – just thought a touch of botanical accuracy might be fun!
Next on the list are the AMARYLLIS – my personal favorite
The plant we commonly call “amaryllis” is a South American native in the genus Hippeastrum. The true botanical amaryllis is South African and much more toxic and almost totally unavailable. The classic bulbs you buy in boxes this time of year are ALL from the South American breeding…
If you bought your amaryllis at the store, you had the choice of the boxed bulbs that provide one bloom stalk (these are young first year to bloom bulbs) or the super-sized bulbs that provide 2-3 bloom stalks per bulb (2-3 year-old bulbs). You can grow either on to become great future displays, although it’s easier with the bigger bulbs.
Once your bulb has produced its flowers for the year, you’ll notice that the bulb has shrunk down quite a bit. Essentially, the bulb has exhausted its reserves and now needs to spend time rebuilding the bulb if you want it to bloom again. Cut off the spent flower stalk and let the green leaves come up. Put the plant into the best light you can find (south window is best) until the summer (when you’ll kick it outside). Water and fertilize until you can get it outside. Be sure to let the pot run dry between waterings since the bulb HATES, HATES, HATES wet feet. Once outside and in good light you can really push the plant with bulb fertilizer for more bulb growth and better bud set.
Bring the bulbs inside around the middle of September. If you want them to bloom for Christmas, cut off the greens just above the top of the bulb and dry the bulb out. Store it cool (55 degrees) and dark for the 8-10 weeks it needs to mature the buds. Then, pot it up again as if you had just purchased it, water well and DON’T water again until you see signs of the buds. After that – rinse and repeat!
I’ve managed amaryllis for years for a friend and can tell you that the bulbs can also put on a massive flower display in May instead of deep winter. She has so many Amaryllis bulbs (over 20 now and many are in 8” pots!) that they are too big for winter flowering displays. We bring the bulbs inside ,and I let them go dormant slowly until late November. Then I cut the foliage off, but leave the bulbs in their pots. They sit in a cool, dark space (50 degrees) for the depths of winter and come out for their first watering in early April. This gives us a magnificent display for early May that we set up outside on her covered porch. Nothing matches the display! Some of these bulbs are over 10 years old and provide 4-5 bloom stems. We’ve also pupped (divided some babies off the parent bulbs). Overall, it’s been a great experiment with a very common but fantastically dramatic plant!
And finally, let’s look at CYCLAMEN
Cyclamen are gorgeous to look at but are the hardest of the holiday plants to grow… they NEED to be truly cool – almost COLD from the human perspective. They love a bright, 50-degree window (think East) and to run slightly dry between waterings. The plant itself is a tuber – like a potato or a dahlia. In its natural setting, it grows in the winter and is dormant in the heat of the summer. This is why they can be difficult to grow if your home is quite warm – 65 degrees or strong light will start to send the tuber in to dormancy and once that process begins it will continue until it looks like the plant is dead. If you want to grow it out again, leave the tuber in its pot, store it until the fall and then start it up outside in September, in a shady part of the yard. The greens come up first and then the flowers. Bring the plant in to your coldest east window before the frosts come and it will bloom again for the holidays. The plants can handle more water if they are cooler – a weird inversion of normal indoor plant growing!! But useful to know…
I should mention paper whites – but they really can’t be grown on again for another year. They are a daffodil, but they aren’t hardy this far north and it’s too cumbersome to regrow the bulbs. Let someone else go through all of that work! Enjoy them for the joy they bring with their beautiful fragrance and let them go once their blooms are done.
And so – we reach the turn of the season at the winter solstice and the turn of the year this week to 2024. It’s been a wild ride in 2023 to be sure and no one knows what 2024 will bring. But – we do know one thing…we all have the ability to learn and to grow and to help to make the world a better place for all. There are loads of changes planned for both the inside and outside of the store, and we’ll keep you in the loop as the projects and programming come on line.
On behalf of everyone who works at The Good Earth Farm and Garden Store
Happy New Year!
We look forward to seeing you at the store