Groundwork column for Dec. 2, 2012 

Consider these poinsettia buying tips

Purchase poinsettias early for best selection and highest quality. Red is still the favored color, but additional colors are available and always attract attention. White, peach, marble and bicolors are in the marketplace, along with new colors with names like Ice Punch, Cortez Burgundy and Monet. There is even an orange-foliage poinsettia called Orange Spice.

Louisiana is a very large producer of poinsettia starter plants, and many growers in the state produce poinsettias for the holiday season. So you can be pleased to know that many Louisiana-sold poinsettias are Louisiana-grown. You can buy fresh and local poinsettias at many locations around the state.

Points to consider when purchasing them for the holidays include the size and number of the colored leaves — which are referred to as bracts. Bracts should be large and extend over the lower green leaves.

The number and size of bracts usually dictate plant price. A premium-quality poinsettia usually has at least six bracts or more.

Be sure to inspect the lower green leaves on the plant. Leaves should have good appearance and extend over the rim of the pot. Drooping leaves may indicate problems. Also check for insects like white flies underneath the lower leaves.

The most important observation to make before purchasing a poinsettia is inspecting the green flower parts — called cyathia — in the center of the bracts. These flower parts indicate display life.

Plants with cyathia that are showing yellow pollen and sap will have the least amount of display life left. Plants with smaller cyathia, little to no pollen and no sap will have the longest display life. A poinsettia should last for four to six weeks in the home with proper care.

To prolong the beauty and health of the plants once they are in the home, proper care is essential. Select a location that receives some sunlight. It also is very important to avoid exposing the plant to sudden temperature changes, so don’t place the poinsettia near a ventilation system or in a drafty spot near a doorway.

Allow the soil surface to dry out thoroughly before watering with warm water. Just the soil surface should be dry to the touch before watering again

Veggies for health

Get a head start on your New Year’s resolution for losing weight by planting vegetables to supplement your heart healthy diet. Vegetables to plant in December include directly seeding into your garden beets, carrots, collards, mustard greens, radish, spinach and turnips. Transplant cabbage, celery, lettuce and Swiss chard. If you can still find garlic, onion and shallot transplants, plant them.

Master Gardener?

Want to become a Master Gardener? Visit http://www.lsuagcenter.com and click Research Stations, then Burden Center and EBR Master Gardeners or contact Bob Souvestre, bsouvestre@agcenter.lsu.edu or (225) 763-3990. Applications are being accepted for the East Baton Rouge Parish program at Burden. Deadline is Jan. 17. Class size is limited, so early applications are encouraged.

Tree trip

Taking a trip to visit a local choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm is a tradition for many Louisiana families every holiday season. The beauty and aroma of a Louisiana-grown Christmas tree creates lasting memories for children and adults alike.

To aid in the selection and care of your Louisiana-grown tree, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry offers these tree selection and care tips:

  • Once you have selected the right size and shape, check the freshness of the tree, if purchased on a tree lot, by grabbing a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pulling it toward you. If the tree is fresh, few needles will come off in your hand.
  • When you shake or move the tree, you should not see an excessive amount of needles fall to the ground. It is normal for some brown needles inside the tree branches to fall, which will continue during the life of the tree.
  • At home, keep the tree in water in a sheltered, cool place until you are ready to decorate and display it. Be sure to keep the tree protected from wind and sun.
  • Before you display your tree, make a new, straight cut across the base of the trunk approximately 1/2 inch above the original cut. Place the tree in a stand that will hold a gallon of water or more.
  • Always keep the tree stand filled with water. Dried sap will form a seal over the cut stump within several hours if the water level falls below the base of the tree. If this occurs, make another fresh cut in the butt-end and promptly fill the stand with water. Use hot tap water which will soften sap and facilitate absorption.

A tree will absorb as much as a gallon of water or more in the 24 hours after it is cut, and one or more quarts every day after. Maintaining a steady water level prevents the needles from drying out and dropping off and the boughs from drooping.

Got a gardening question? Write to Bob Souvestre, horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter, at Burden Center, 4560 Essen Lane, Baton Rouge, LA 70809, or email to bsouvestre@agcenter.lsu.edu, or call Master Gardeners at (225) 763-3990.