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Dr. Hort: How to prune poinsettias; small-space gardening advice

Damaged poinsettias

Courtesy of Sharon Thompson

Damaged poinsettias

Pruning damaged poinsettias

Q: My poinsettias were damaged by all the rain we had. They did bloom later and now it's time to trim them, but I'm not sure how much to trim back. One bush is over 5 feet tall, and the other two are about 3 feet tall. I don't want to lose them, as the two were from my mother's funeral.

Sharon Thompson

A: The photos of your poinsettias were helpful to formulate a prescription for pruning.

Start by pruning out all dead wood back to their point of attachment. Next prune out any skinny branches for they won't support large floral bracts. (The red on poinsettias are modified leaves or bracts, the flowers are in the very center, pea-sized and yellow). Finally, prune each of the remaining branches back to about 2 feet tall, leaving the plant looking like a bunch of sticks.

If this frightens you, prune one half of the branches back now followed by pruning the remainder in two months after the others have leafed and branched back out.

Then, as any new branch reaches a foot in length, pinch out its terminal bud — the end of the shoot 1/2- to 3/4-inch — which will cause it to branch again. When they reach a foot in length, pinch again until the end of August. Pruning after that may remove the new flower buds for Christmas.

By pruning your poinsettias in this way, a stockier plant will result, covered with large floral bracts for the holidays.

After the initial pruning, fertilize with a quality 10-0-10 or 8-0-12 to push the new growth, followed by another application three months later.

How to maximize a small garden space

Q: I would like to plant one zucchini but have no real garden space. I've heard that you can plant it in a pot, and if that's so, please tell me how deep and wide the pot should be.

Also, just as I was ready to purchase another patio tomato plant, the one from last year, which is in a large pot, has sprouted a good, healthy-looking plant from its base. Shall I just work with that one, or throw it out and start new?

We're from Rhode Island and gardened heavily there with a huge backyard plot and three enthusiastic kids to help. Gardening here is no easy task, even with the small space we have. We're constantly amending the soil, etc. I mostly concentrate on my orchids and a few ornamentals, but we so miss a nice ripe tomato that actually tastes like a tomato. Having one in a 5-gallon pot serves us well but not enough to share with our neighbors like we did in New England.

Then again, don't miss the snow and ice either.

Paula Messia

A: You're going to have to be a bit creative on a pot for the zucchini because of its overall diameter of 3 to 4 feet. A good old-fashioned washtub or small plastic kiddie pool with some holes drilled for drainage would work great. A 3- by 3-foot box made with 1- by 8-inch or 1- by 10-inch, pressure-treated wood with no bottom would be another choice if you would like a little building project. For best results, fill with a peat-based mix such as MiracleGro, Promix, Fafard or Jungle Growth, and not potting soil.

As for your tomato, leave it grow as an experiment, but purchase a new one for a bountiful harvest.

You may consider a growing system called EarthBox. It is compact, organic and mobile, using a peat-based growing mix, bottom wick watering, complete with fertilizers and easy-to-follow instructions. For more information, go to earthbox.com. For about a $50 investment you'll be happy growing vegetables like you did in Rhode Island. You will be amazed at how much produce can be harvested in such a small space, and you'll most certainly be able to pick tomatoes that "taste like a tomato."

Need help? Dr. Hort (Greg Charles) answers questions about garden problems. Email him at drhort@tampabay.rr.com. Describe problem in full, and include your full name, city of residence and contact information. If possible, attach a high-resolution photo. Fuzzy or out-of-focus ones won't do.

Dr. Hort: How to prune poinsettias; small-space gardening advice 07/06/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 6:58pm]

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