A Note From Your Poinsettia


Source: terryweaver.com, http://www.uihere.com & http://www.wallquotes.com, montage: laidbackgardener.blog


I’m your poinsettia. I’ve been decorating your living room for a few days now and I’d love to do it for a long time to come, but for me to last, I need your help.

Don’t Let Me Drown!

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Pot covers may be cute, but they can also be deadly! Source: Karen McCourt, in.pinterest.com

First, a few words about that cute pot cover I’m sold in. I hate it!

True enough, it does make me look pretty, but it also causes me trouble. It’s completely watertight, allowing no drainage whatsoever, so when you water me, any excess water just accumulates and then my roots, which need to breathe air, start to drown and that’s the end of me!

So, could you please remove it or at least punch holes in the bottom, then set me in a plant saucer? That way the water can escape!

Thank you!


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Check frequently and water me thoroughly. Source: http://www.ftd.com

Second, watering.

I just came out of a huge greenhouse where my watering was automated: I’ve never been exposed to dry soil in my life! As soon as my soil got close to drying, a computer warned the system, and I was carefully inundated with nice warm water. It was heaven!

But there is no automatic watering system in your home. If you let my potting soil dry out, some of my roots will die and since I now have fewer roots, I won’t be able to support as many leaves. So, my lower leaves will turn yellow and fall off and I’ll be less attractive. If you do this a second time, I’ll lose even more leaves, then more again, then even some of my beautiful colored bracts! Sob! I’ll look like a tornado hit me and I just know you’ll toss me!

So, I need your help!

Get in the habit of touching my potting soil every three or four days. Go ahead and shove a finger right into it: that does me no harm whatsoever. If the soil seems damp, everything is fine, but check again in three or four days. If the soil seems dry, water me. Slowly, but abundantly, with tepid water (I hate cold water!), until the excess water starts to drip out of my pot’s drainage holes.

15 minutes after you water, come back and discard any water that remains in my saucer. That will make me so happy!

If you always water me well, I promise to stay in bloom right through the holidays!


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I can put up with shade for a while, but I really prefer sun! Source: www.ikea.com

Now let’s talk about light… and here I’m willing to compromise a bit. I prefer bright light, but I can tolerate a few days, even two or three weeks, with little light. So, yes, you can place me on a coffee table or desk away from any window during the holidays. After all, my role is to decorate your home. But afterwards, place me near a sunny window. Yes, full sun if possible, if not, the brightest conditions you can provide!

If I get a lot of sun in addition to regular watering, I’ll hold on to my bracts for ages, until as late as May or even June!

Other Care

A few more fairly minor details: I’m fine with hot temperatures during the day, but prefer cooler nights. So, if you could lower the thermostat just a bit before you go to bed, to maybe 65 ° F (18 ° C), I’d appreciate it. I’ll be able to sleep better.

And keep me out of cold drafts and away from radiators. Do you like blasts of cold or hot air? I didn’t think so. Well, neither do I!

And don’t feed me yet. Before I was sent to the store where you bought me, I was so heavily fertilized that I’m still full. I mean, Christmas Day turkey full! In fact, I won’t be hungry for a few months yet. In March, when the days get a little longer, that’s when I’ll then start looking for some extra minerals.

Then, just give me a bit of all-purpose fertilizer at each watering. A pinch or two will do: I’m not a greedy plant. Still, I don’t like being starved either.

Extending My Usefulness

Look, if I bloom until May or June, I figure I did my job. I hope you enjoyed my efforts! After that, it seems to me that I will have the right to rest a little. Maintaining colorful bracts is exhausting, so don’t complain if I drop them: you’ll have had your money’s worth.

What, do you want me to bloom again? Hmm. Let me think about it.

You see, that wasn’t part of the contract. The nurseryman who produced me certainly didn’t have that in mind! He saw me as a temporary decoration, something you’d dispose of when I start to decline. However, it’s true that you’ve been nice to me. So … okay, I’m willing to try. But that will require some extra effort on your part.

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Cut me back severely. Source: UKGardening, http://www.youtube.com

First, when my bracts start to fall off, cut me back severely, to 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) from the soil. Go ahead: it doesn’t hurt me! Instead, it will stimulate me to grow back more densely, so I’ll be even more beautiful next year.

Keep on watering me (never let me dry out!), fertilizing me and giving me the brightest light you can muster. You can even put me outside for the summer. I love that! But bring me back indoors in early fall, before the first frost.

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I need short days in order to bloom. Source: laidbackgardener.com

I’m now going to reveal you my biggest secret: I only bloom if I have long nights or, if you prefer, short days, that is, days of less than 12 hours. So, from the 22nd of September on, you can no longer keep me in a room that is illuminated at night. Even a few rays of light at the wrong moment can throw off my flowering!

Instead, place me somewhere I get intense sun during the day, but no light at all at night. Maybe you can put me in a guest room and remove all the light bulbs so that no one can turn on a light at night by accident? Or you can stuff me into a closet at six o’clock each evening, then move me back to a sunny spot at 8 am? Whatever works for you, but do give me those short days.

After about 2 months of short days, a little miracle will occur. The new leaves that appear at my top will be colored bracts! Moreover, as soon as I start to change color, you no longer have to worry about providing short days. It’s just to start the color change that I need days less than 12 hours long.

So, you’ve been so good to me that I’m going to give you a present: just do as I say and I’m going to bloom for Christmas next year, just for you! And the year after, and the year after, for as long as you like!

Faithfully yours,

Your beloved poinsettia,


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Can I Grow a Date Tree From a Date?


Young date palms have simple, narrow leaves,  much like grass. Source: Rachel Berner

Question: About 2 years ago, I planted a seed from a date imported from Morocco and it sprouted! Now it has several leaves. Will it flower and produce dates some day?

Rachel Bernier, Canada

Answer: First of all, you were lucky it sprouted. These days, most dates sold are pitted and contain no seed. And those that are not pitted may have been irradiated so the fruit keeps better, but that kills the seed inside. So, you always need to find a source of organic, unpitted dates. Perhaps a local health food store offers them.

And you have to realize that dates come from a tall palm tree, the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), that is many years from producing flowers and fruits and will likely never flower indoors.

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Few people have enough space for a date palm indoors. Source: http://www.onlineplantguide.com

Yours is still a seedling, with undivided leaves much like a grass, but as your plant matures, it will start to produce longer and longer pinnate fronds (eventually up to 20 feet/6 m long!) that will take up a lot of space in your home. So, it can make an interesting houseplant, but only for a few years, then it becomes too big. I kept one 12 years once, but finally had to admit defeat and gave it to a friend with a large sunroom … when it again became too big and was eventually disposed of.

Supposing you have a tall greenhouse, plenty of space and full sun (the date palm is a desert plant and likes its sun intense!) and it finally does start to flower. To obtain fruit, you’d still need at least two palms, a male and a female, as date palms are dioecious, with male and female flowers borne on different plants. And you’d have to hand pollinate to ensure fruit production.

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Date palm plantation in Israel. Source: http://www.travelblog.org

Of course, if you move to a hot, dry climate (date palm flowers needs temperatures around 95˚ F/35’C for successful pollination to occur), you could grow the palm outdoors. Dates are usually raised commercially under desert-like conditions (think “oasis”), with the Middle East and North Africa, where the palm is native, being the world’s main suppliers of dates. In North America, there are only a few successful plantations in Arizona and California and although it’s possible to grow date palms to fruition in Australia, the industry is just getting started there.

How to Sow Dates

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Untreated dates with seeds inside: just extract them and pot them up! Source: agroweb.org

So, nobody is likely to grow a true date palm forever as an indoor plant, but starting one can still be an interesting project. Harvest and clean a few of the deeply grooved seeds from untreated, unpitted dates and pot them up in somewhat moist soil in a warm spot. No light is needed until after germination, which will likely take place within a month.

Grow the seedlings in full sun after that, offering warm to hot temperatures and regular watering. Pot up into larger and pots as they grow. Watch out for the nasty spines at the base of the fronds as they develop. By the time you see even the beginning of a trunk (stipe), your baby date palm will likely be too big and you’ll need to dispose of it.

Pygmy Date Palm

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Pygmy date palm: just the right size for indoor decoration. Source: http://www.plantingman.com

Might I suggest that, if you’re looking for a houseplant date palm, trying a pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelinii) instead? It’s available in most garden centers, is small enough to fit into the average home (it rarely reaches more than 6 to 9 feet/2 to 3 m tall, with fronds only 2 to 4 feet/60 to 120 cm in length, even after decades of culture) and tolerates average indoor conditions, including moderate light, better than the true date palm. Seed is available online if you want to grow a pygmy date from seed, but you’d be years from having a palm with a trunk, so purchasing an already established plant is usually the wiser choice.


When a Red Euphorbia Turns Green


The red African milk tree (Euphorbia trigona ‘Rubra’) is often burgundy red when you purchase it, then turns green under the lower light of your home. Source: http://www.ebay.com

Question: I bought a euphorbia as a houseplant. I chose it because it was dark red, but now the new shoots are green and it’s losing its red coloration. Does it need more sunlight? And how do I water it?


Answer: The euphorbia you bought is probably Euphorbia trigona ‘Rubra’ (also sold as E. trigona rubra or E. trigona ‘Royal Red’), often called the red African milk tree because of its milky white sap and African origin. It’s a mutation of the normal form that has triangular green stems marbled with white and small green leaves. Exposed to intense sun, ‘Rubra’ produces a reddish stem and red leaves. This coloration tends to disappear in winter, even in summer when the plant is in too much shade. If it’s put back into the sun, the reddish color returns.

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Many other succulents redden in bright light, like the jade plant (Crassula ovata). Source: http://www.bonsaiempire.nl

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Echeveria  “Black Prince” in summer (left) and winter (right). Source: http://www.tissuecultureaustralia.com.au & http://www.provenwinners.com

This euphorbia is not the only plant that reacts that way. Many other plants, especially succulents (aloes, echeverias, crassulas, rhipsalis, etc.), turn reddish in full sun, because the red pigmentation, caused by a buildup of anthocyanins, acts as a kind of sunscreen, protecting the stems and leaves against the harmful effects of the sun and especially its ultraviolet rays. Under lower light, the “sunscreen” is not needed and fades away, leaving a green plant.


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Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Fire’. The new leaves are bright red, but will turn green when they mature. Source: mikesgardentop5plants.wordpress.com

In many non-succulents, there is a similar situation, except it’s the fragile new leaves that are red at first, but then become a normal green color as they mature and harden off.

What to Do?

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This Euphorbia trigona ‘Rubra’ was red at first, started to turn green, then reddened up again when exposed to more intense light. Source: absolutely_fuzz, reddit.com

It is clear that your euphorbia is not getting enough sun for it to maintain its reddish color. Before you bought it, it was probably grown in a greenhouse, where providing intense sunshine is easy, but in the home, it really should be placed near a sunny window at all times. This is especially true in the winter, when the sun is much, much less intense. And for an even more intense coloring, grow it outdoors in full sun during the summer months.

As for watering, like most succulent euphorbias, the African milk tree is very tolerant of irregular watering. Ideally, you’d water abundantly, then allow the growing mix to dry thoroughly before watering again. The frequency of watering will vary according to the conditions and the seasons: you may need to water it weekly in hot summer weather, but only every two to three weeks under cooler, shadier winter conditions.

Protecting Electrical Cord Connections


Twist and Seal outlet cover. Source: http://www.lowes.com

Most gardeners find considerable use for electrical products outdoors—garden lighting, power tools, pumps, etc., not to mention Christmas lights!—and that means connecting the tool, with its short cord, to a power cord exposed to the elements. That’s fine if you’re mowing the lawn or trimming the hedge on a sunny day, but what if the cord will spend months outdoors in all kinds of weather? In that case, you should consider protecting the connection from rain and melting snow.

You can readily find plug protectors in hardware stores. Twist and Seal is perhaps the best-known brand, but there are others. There are even different models. For example, some are designed to protect single connections, others (more dome shaped) multiple connections.

DIY Cord Protector

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Home-made cord protector. Source: http://www.wikihow.com and http://www.lowes.com, montage: laidbackgardener.blog

Or you can make your own electrical cord connector from a margarine or yoghurt tub. Here’s how:

  1. Turn the tub over and make a straight cut along the bottom with a utility knife (X-Acto).
  2. Continue the cut on both ends of the slit, down to about ½ the height of the container.
  3. Cut a hole large enough for the cord or cords at the end of both slits.
  4. Push the connected cords into the container through the slit so their cables come out through the holes. The slit will close over the cords.
  5. Put the lid on the container.
  6. Turn it right side up.

You now have a weather-resistant home-made power cord protector!

Unwrap Your Poinsettia Without Delay


Yes, do make sure your poinsettia is well wrapped against the cold when you bring it back from the store, but don’t leave it in its packaging. Source: http://www.alphapackaging.co.uk

If there is normally no problem leaving plants purchased for Christmas in their wrapping for 4 or 5 days, that’s not the case with the popular Christmas plant known as the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), often offered as a hostess gift during the holiday season. This plant produces ethylene, a toxic gas, and begins to poison itself in as little as 16 hours if there is no or little air circulation, especially at warm temperatures (over 60˚ F/16˚ C).

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Bracts and leaves can be damaged if left wrapped too long. Source: http://www.hydro-orchids.com

The main symptom of ethylene damage is wilting. When you remove the wrapping, the bracts and leaves look wilted even though the potting mix seems reasonably moist. Soon bracts and leaves start to fall off and the plant, although it is not yet dead, is no longer very presentable.  

If you plan to offer a poinsettia as a gift, either buy it the same day you plan to give it or, if you have to buy it in advance, unwrap it immediately when you get home, then rewrap it just before you leave.

Naming a Mystery Plant


Pots of rooted sansevieria leaf cuttings as found in so many garden centres… but what is this plant’s real name? Source: http://www.florastore.com

You’ve certainly seen this plant around. In fact, it seems to be in every garden center these days. What you’ll see is a pot of short, tubular, pointed dark green leaves with lighter transverse bands and a shallow groove down the middle on one side, only about 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) tall, popping out of a pot. The leaves are usually densely clustered together, although sometimes placed so as to form a fan. And the pot isn’t always labeled … and even when it is, it’s almost never labeled correctly.

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The cylindrical snake plant (S. cylindrica) is a close relative, but has thicker, paler green leaves with numerous narrow channels running lengthwise. Those channels are absent from Sansevieria bacularis. Source: plantzy.com

What you’re seeing are leaf cuttings of a snake plant called Sansevieria bacularis, a close relative of the similar, but much thicker-leafed cylindrical snake plant (S. cylindrica). In fact, I personally confused the two when I first saw S. bacularis cuttings for the first time. I really did take them for some sort of miniature S. cylindrica.

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A mature specimen of S. bacularis looks nothing like S. cylindrica… but you can see why you might want to call it the rod-leaf snake plant! Source: Ha Keat Lim, http://www.llifle.com

Since bacularis is from the Latin word baculum for rod or staff, this new plant could be called the rod-leaf snake plant.

The rod-leaf snake plant is being sold under such trade names as S. Mikado, S. Mikado Fernwood*, S. Fernwood Mikado*, S. Musica (or Musika), even spaghetti sansevieria. And it’s often being offered as belonging to one of two different Sansevieria species: S. cylindrica and S. sulcata (now S. caniculata). However, my sources (listed at the end of the article) insist that the plant in question is instead S. bacularis. If you place S. cylindrica and S. bacularis side by side, you’ll easily see the differences.

At a Glance

The “plant” I usually see is in fact simply a pot of rooted leaf cuttings and will eventually produce offsets leading to very different-looking plant with much taller leaves. Indeed, the rod-leaf snake plant can eventually attain 4 feet to 6 feet (1.2 m to 1.8 m) in height … after many, many years.

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The purple leaf sheaths show that these sprouting leaves belong to Sansevieria bacularis, not S. cylindrica. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

In many stores, you’ll find pots that haven’t sold and are transitioning from cuttings into actual plants. You can be sure the plants are S. bacularis by the purple leaf sheaths at the base, something you don’t see on other sansevierias.

Each specimen of the rod-leaf snake plant bears only one or (rarely) two very upright leaves surrounded by five to six short purplish basal sheaths. At maturity, the plant will even bloom, with stalks of purple-lined white flowers shorter than the leaf, if given bright enough light.

S. bacularis is a recent introduction: the Central African native was only officially described in 2010, but seems to have gained popularity very rapidly.

Confusing Nomenclature

I’ve been trying find out if the cultivar names Mikado or Musica are legitimate (i.e. if they are special selections of S. bacularis) or if they are just commercial names for the plain species, but with no luck. If anyone has more information on the history behind this plant and its multiple names, please let me know. I’ll gladly update this article to include any accurate information.

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The arching, clustered leaves show this plant to be Sansevieria ‘Fernwood’, not S. bacularis. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

*Then comes the confusing situation of sansevieria plants labeled Fernwood Mikado or Mikado Fernwood. There is a real S. ‘Fernwood’ (S. parva x S. suffruticosa), developed by the late hybridizer Rogers Weld of Fernwood Nursery in California, but it’s is a very different plant, with narrow leaves that are arching rather than straight and upright and flattened at the base rather than cylindrical, plus each plant produces several leaves, not just one or two. You could mistake a pot of ‘Fernwood’ leaf cuttings for S. bacularis, but certainly not an established plant.

Growing S. bacularis

What could be easier? Avoid frost and water it occasionally and it will probably grow!

OK, that was a bit simplistic, but still fairly accurate. Here’s more detail:

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This plant needs more light than sellers have been generally recommending. Source: http://www.gardentags

Salespeople seem to be telling customers that the rod-leaf snake plant is a shade plant, but don’t believe them. True enough, while it will “hold” in shade, it certainly won’t thrive there. It prefers bright light with some full sun. In fact, full sun all year is just fine, at least at higher latitudes. Under poor light, the leaves on mature specimens will be bendy and will require staking.

The rod-leaf snake plant is highly drought tolerant. Water well, then let dry. If you have to go away for a few months, just water it before you leave. It will be parched, but alive when you get back and will soon recover with judicious watering.

It tolerates both dry and humid air and any temperature above freezing if the soil is dry. If the soil is moist, keep the temperature above 45 °F (7 °C). Plant it in a well-drained mix (you might want to add ¼ parakeet gravel to your usual houseplant mix for extra weight). A heavy pot will likely be necessary to keep mature specimens from keeling over. Outside, it will grow best in arid, tropical climates, although indoor specimens will do fine outdoors for the summer in colder climes.

You can fertilize this plant or not: it doesn’t really seem to care.

And you can multiply the rod-leaf snake plant by division or leaf cuttings. In the latter case, just chop the top off a leaf (that will put an end to its growth, though!) and stick it in a pot of growing mix, watering very occasionally. It will root and eventually produce a new plant, although this can sometimes take a year or more.

The rod-leaf snake plant (Sansevieria baccularis). You’ve seen it and maybe even grow it, and now you can finally put a name on it!

Sources of Information: www.llifle.com/Encyclopedia/SUCCULENTS/Family/Dracaenaceae/32497/Sansevieria_bacularis

Can You Grow Purslane in the Veggie Garden?


Yes, purslane is a vegetable, but also a weed. You might want to forage it rather than grow it. Source: antropocene.it

Question: I wondered if I can grow purslane in my vegetable garden in zone 4. If so, should I bring the plant indoors in the fall to protect it from the cold? I’m asking, because I read that purslane is a staple food in Crete which helps explain their low rate of cardiovascular disease. It’s also a medicinal plant with many virtues.

Nathalie Capilla

Answer: Yes, you can certainly grow purslane in your vegetable garden, but I am not sure you would really want to. Here’s why:

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), also known as pigweed*, a low-growing plant with thick, creeping stems and succulent leaves, is a fast-growing annual often grown as a vegetable, but which is also a very common weed, possibly native to Asia, but long established throughout Europe and Africa as a pernicious weed and now present almost everywhere in North America, South America and Oceania as well. Once you sow it, therefore, it often becomes more of an enemy than a useful plant.

*The name pigweed comes from its use as pig fodder.

If you do decide to grow purslane, be sure to harvest the stems before the seed capsules open and release their seeds. If not, mulch abundantly to avoid giving the seeds a chance to germinate (they only sprout in bare soil in full sun) …or grow it as a potted plant far from the vegetable garden. Certainly, you should never grow this vegetable in a community garden, as it could cause problems for other gardeners.

Discrete Blooms

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Unless you’re an early riser, you’ll never notice the flowers. Source: http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info

How can purslane produce seeds, since it never seems to bloom? In fact, it does bloom, but very discreetly, with tiny yellow flowers that are open only a few hours on sunny mornings and even then, only a few days per season. If you blink, you’ll miss them!

Forage Rather Than Grow

I personally forage purslane rather than grow it and you certainly can do so as well. There is almost certainly purslane growing spontaneously in your area, perhaps in a field or along a road or even sprouting from a crack in the sidewalk, in which case simply harvest it and rinse well before using. You don’t actually have to grow it.

Purslane Indoors

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Purslane microgreens. Source: everlingcoastalfarm.com

To answer your second question, above saving purslane from the cold, since purslane is an annual, thus dying at the end of the season, there is no point bringing the plant indoors in the fall. However, you could harvest seeds and sow them indoors to serve as sprouts or microgreens. That way, you can have fresh purslane all year long!