Get holiday plants: trees, poinsettias and cacti
Living Christmas trees are a fun, lasting way to celebrate the holiday season that can then be planted to provide a lifetime of enjoyment. Unfortunately a commonly sold plant for this is the Norfolk Island pine. If planted in the landscape this tree will rapidly grow to staggering heights (up to 80 feet tall!). Large surface roots break sidewalks, patios, pipes, driveways and more. Itís best to keep these plants in pots. More suitable native choices for our area include the Southern redcedar (Juniperus silicicola) and the sand pine (Pinus clausa). Both are drought-tolerant but not very wind-resistant, so keep them away from the house when planting. Or, for another fun twist you can plant and then harvest them to create an indoor tree in five to seven years. If youíd rather have someone else grow your Florida Christmas tree look here for a tree farms: tinyurl.com/xmasfarms.
If your holiday poinsettia comes in a container wrapped in a foil outer cover, be sure to remove it or punch holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain. Keep the soil around your poinsettia slightly moist, but not soggy, and place the plant in a bright window out of direct sunlight.
There are two types of flowering holiday cactus: Christmas and Easter. The Christmas cactus, Zygocactus truncates, usually flowers from Thanksgiving to Christmas and its leaves have pointed lobes. The Easter cactus, Schlumbergera bridgessii, has wider, rounded leaves. It usually flowers from Christmas to Easter. Allow soil to dry out between watering and keep the plant in bright light while in bloom. These are long-lived plants and can be kept outside in the shade during most of the year. They need to be protected from frost and freezing temperatures.
Caring for garden edibles: veggies, herbs and fruits
Remember to side dress vegetable gardens with fertilizer every three to four weeks. Use about 1 pound of 8-8-8 per 100 square feet. Apply along sides or between rows about 6-8 inches away from the plant stems. Remember to water well after applying fertilizer. For information about organic soil amendments for your vegetable garden, visit tinyurl.com/ooafazy.
Watch for late blight on tomatoes. Look for brown, water-soaked areas on the fruit and yellowing lower leaves that eventually turn brown. Late blight is a problem when thereís high humidity and the temperature is between 60 to 70 degrees. Control this disease at first sign of symptoms by spraying the entire plant with a fungicide labeled for late blight on tomatoes. Carefully follow the label directions.
Herbs: This is an excellent time to plant several different herb varieties. Even if you donít have much space, herbs can be grown in containers. Some even do well indoors on a sunny window sill. Some cool season herbs are sage, dill, cilantro, anise, sweet marjoram, thyme, lavender, rosemary, sweet fennel and chives. Herbs do best in well-drained soil with a minimum of fertilizer.
Citrus: Citrus fruit must be fully ripe when harvested since the sweetening process stops once the fruit is picked. Many citrus varieties have a long season in which they can be left on the tree and gathered for use as needed. There is a time, however, when the tree stops caring for the fruit and it starts to dry out.
Compiled by Theresa Badurek, urban horticulture extension agent, UF/IFAS Pinellas County Extension Service. For additional landscape and garden information, visit pinellascountyextension.org. For regular tips and information about whatís growing in Pinellas, go to facebook.com/PinellasExtension.