This week on the Today with Sean O’Rourke Show, gardening expert Paraic talks about the Poinsettia, outdoor plants, keeping your Christmas tree in top condition, feeding the birds and the little jobs that can be done in the garden at this time of year.
The Poinsettia is the real symbol of Christmas, the plant is known as Christmas star because of the beautiful shape of the leaves and the lovely coloured bract. The plant was founded by Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1828 in Mexico and brought back from the states.
In terms of looking after the poinsettia, it comes from Mexico so that will give you an indication as to the type of conditions it likes, it needs to be placed somewhere warm. You should allow the plant to dry out slightly between watering.
Ideally it should be put on a bright windowsill, close to a radiator and watered every six to seven days and that will give a lovely colour to the plant. Sit the plant in a saucer of water and let it absorb a cup of water over a six to seven day period. The plant does not like to be too wet, so allow it to dry out a little and that will bring it right through to summer and into autumn. Poinsettia tend to live for quite a long time, the trick is trying to get them back to the lovely red colour next Christmas again.
It is typical of the plant to lose its colour as it needs specific lighting conditions to get it back to the red colour again.
Do look after this plant during the Christmas, do enjoy it. Paraics top tip is not to water the Poinsettia much.
Can I plant Poinsettia outside after Christmas?
No, Poinsettia is an indoor plant, and is not suitable for planting outside as the conditions are too cold. They are an outside plant in Mexico but will not survive the harsh weather conditions here.
At this time of year a lot of people look for plants that they can use to put on graves or to put outside the home. There are also plants like the beautiful winter cyclamen which are totally winter hardy and hyacinths which are coming into flower at the moment which can be put outside too.
Hellebores or Christmas rose are just coming into flower now at the moment; it’s an outdoor plant with virginal white flowers, very very simple plant to grow. Again you can put it on a grave, you can put it in a pot or container, and it’s very low growing but flowers the whole Christmas and winter period. It will form a shrub about a foot and half in diameter and will grow to 6 or 7 inches in height.
There’s another beautiful plant for this time of year with beautiful red berries called the Skimmia. It’s a very slow growing plant with evergreen foliage and bright red berries that the birds tend to dislike, so it’s a really good shrub for winter colour and also a lovely seasonal plant.
Potted Tulips, winter pansies, winter Violas, Primulas and winter flowering Heathers are great and give a lot of colour through the wintering period. There are also some spring bulbs still available, things like potted tulips, potted daffodils and the likes; you will find them all in your local garden centre.
Interestingly, because of the mild autumn, trees are still growing, we haven’t had the severe frost or the cold weather to stop them growing.
So first of all when you’re selecting a Christmas tree go by the weight of the tree, for its size the tree should be quite weighty, thats an indication there is plenty of sap and there’s plenty of resin in the plant and it hasn’t dried out. Also look for the foliage; it should be soft, nearly moist to touch and a good shade of green.
When you bring it indoors, it’s critical that you treat the tree like cut flowers. Remove about 4 to 6 inches off the stem, cut that off right at the base and that will open up the pores and allows for the absorption of moisture and water and get a stand that will take a litre of water. Simply put the tree in the stand and top up with water every 6 to 7 days.
It’s amazing how much the tree will actually absorb indoors and the water will keep it fresh through to the 8th, 9th or 10th of January even in a warm room.
Look for non-shed trees like the Norman fir and noble fir as they tend to hold 80% or 90% of their needles. You can also add cut flower food to keep the tree nice and fresh.
Another use for the tree if you don’t want to bring it to the recycling centre after Christmas is to re-plant the tree in spring to grow sweet pea or nasturtiums up. It forms the perfect frame to allow maybe a dozen sweet peas around the base of the tree, they’ll scramble up through the tree and you’ll get this lovely pyramid effect of sweet pea or nasturtiums or any fast growing climbers.
Simply plant the sweet pea 2 ft out from the stem of the planted tree. They will grow right up through the tree and use the tree as support and give you fantastic colour from July right through October of the following year. It’s really a great way of re-using the Christmas tree after Christmas.
Getting out of the House
There is lots of things that can be done in the garden particularly with this lovely mild weather, pruning for example rose bushes or summer flowering shrubs. Spireas, Hypericum and Buddleias can all be pruned during the winter period too. You’re apple and pear trees for example and most of your fruiting plants will benefit from pruning back because you can actually see the stems now, they’re very visible, so it’s a great time to get out there and physically cut them back.
The other suggestion we have is to treat them to a dressing of winter wash, so once you’ve pruned the trees if you apply a dressing of winter wash that will remove any bugs or diseases and tends to clean the trees and starts them afresh then.
Believe it or not the new potatoes are in garden centres nationwide right now. Varieties like Duke of York,Colleen and Orla are all available now for sprouting.
At this time of year you will be selecting the variety of potato you want to grow, particularly the early varieties, the first earlies, you can sprout them or chit them, which means put them into a seed tray or box. Put them into a bright location like a conservatory, garden shed or greenhouse and allow the little buds to start to initiate. It will take about a month for that to happen and any time from early February onwards you can start potting them up into pots and containers or if you’ve got raised beds in the garden you can start putting them out.
Another thing to look out for with this mild winter is that there is a lot of moss around at the moment particularly on patio walls and driveways. Take control of that now by using proprietary moss control product and apply in dry weather to get rid of it over the Christmas period.
We are also coming into that time of year from mid to late December or early January for sowing the seeds of new plants for indoors, so things like chillies, tomatoes, geraniums, begonias. The heat in the houses provides the perfect temperature for growing seeds indoors.
Feed the wild birds…
It’s very important to feed the birds at this time of year as the natural food sources such as the Holly berries are beginning to disappear, so it’s extremely important to feed the birds and a good way to get them into the garden. You can use seed like Nigerseeds which are a dark seed full of oil and is good for attracting more unusual birds. You can also use sunflower hearts or the traditional peanuts or wild bird feed to keep the birds coming into the garden.
Paraic would use this time for tidying up the garden, taking up the leaves, starting a compost heap and doing the pruning, putting in a new hedge or planting some new trees where the soil can be worked.