Friday, November 30, 2007


Joel Robert Poinsett is often credited with discovering the plant named in his honor when he was the US ambassador to Mexico in the early 1800s. It was the Albert Ecke, however, who saw the potential for a plant that "flowered" during the holiday season. The first plants were field grown and the Ecke family sold them from roadside stands in Southern California. Eventually, plant breeders developed varieties that better withstood being grown in containers in greenhouses. It is interesting to note that 90 percent of all the flowering poinsettias got their start at the Paul Ecke Ranch.
Here are some other interesting facts about poinsettias compiled by the University of Illinois:
They are not poisonous. A study at The Ohio State University showed that a 50 pound child who ate 500 bracts might suffer a slight tummy ache.
The "flowers" are actually colorful bracts, or modified leaves. The flowers are clustered in the center of the bract.
A fresh poinsettia is one which shows little or no yellow pollen in the center of the bract.
The Paul Ecke Ranch grows 80 percent of the poinsettias grown for the wholesale market. The poinsettias that Countyside grows come from several different sources. We get them as cuttings and start planting them around July 4th!
There are over 100 varieties of poinsettias, although red remains the favorite(74% of those polled), followed by white (8%) and pink (6%).
To the right are pictures of some of the more unique poinsettia varieties that we grow. My favorite is the Cortez Fire. I also like its cousin, Cortez Hot Pink. The Winter Rose is very unique with its curly bracts. However, I see that I forgot to take a picture of Micheal's favorite, the Cinnimon Star. You'll have to come into the store to see that one!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Winter Containers

Winter Containers
Your summer annuals are history and the fall containers are looking a little sad. What next for the container at your front door or the window boxes? Why, evergreens and berries for a delightful winter display.

If you’ve been to downtown Crystal Lake, you may have noticed the new hanging baskets on the decorative street lamps. Kim Hartman of the greenhouse staff designed those containers and has a few tips for you to make your home as attractive this winter. I spent some time in the "Elf House" with Kim this week and watched the staff at work.

If you are starting with an empty container, back fill it with some heavy material such as pea gravel and then cover it with oasis. The oasis, or green florists foam, helps retain moisture for the greens and is easy to design with. You will need to secure it into the container so your display doesn't flip out of the container. We used twine criss-crossed over the top.

As with your other season containers, you want a focal point, some filler and a "spiller" to soften the edges of the container. The containers the staff was working on this week were more rounded without a specific focal point, but you can use spruce or balsam tops for a more triangular form. First, they used balsam or douglas fir stems inserted horizontally at the edge of the container and in the center to give the container some dimension. Next, Kim gave the container some texture by inserting different greens and specialty foliage such as cedar, white pine, magnolia stems, and dogwood for color.

Hope to see you Friday night at the Crystal Lake
Parade of Lights. And Saturday Kim is leading a hands-on workshop on winter containers. Of course you can always stop by the store and we can assist you with your project.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Overwintering Tropical Plants

I hope by now you have brought in your tropical plants that you plan to overwinter. I brought in my hibiscus and jasmine a few weeks ago. I also brought in the tropical plants from my pond. I have them in the screen room in big tubs of water.

In a somewhat interesting side note to tropical plants, especially the pond plants: The hardy lotus and the arrowhead that I have in my pond entered their dormant phases starting in September while my tropical plants showed no effects of the early frost we had in September or the cooler temperatures since then. When I had tropical lilies, they continued to bloom well into October. I have to admit they are awkward to overwinter and do take up a lot of room in the house, but I think they are totally worth it.

Often when you change the environment for any plant, cooler temps for warmer, less humid indoor temps or brighter light conditions for less bright, the plant undergoes some amount of stress. The first reaction to this stress is loss of leaves. After the plant readjusts to its new environment it will put out new leaves that are acclimated to its new surroundings.
One thing that you need to watch for when bringing in plants is insects and/or insect eggs. For hibiscus plants we recommend that you strip the plant of its leaves before bringing it indoors so that you leave any eggs outside. Keep an eye out for aphids, white fly, scale, mealy bug, mites and thrips. These are chewing insects that can be controlled using systemics or insecticidal soaps. Systemic insecticides come in either granular or liquid forms and are applied to the soil. The plant’s roots take up the insecticide and move it up to the stems and leaves. When the insect takes a bite of the leaf it ingests the chemical and dies. Insecticidal soaps are topical and are not harmful to pets. Ann Larson in the greenhouse also recommends using the True Value cleaner that we sell. This is applied topically with a paper towel or rag. After killing the adult insects, any eggs that they laid will hatch in two weeks, so you need to make several applications.