Monthly Archives: December 2012

Oncidium Surprise

(After a brief “holiday hiatus,” it’s time to get back to blogging!)

A few weeks ago while I was watering my plants, I was surprised to see that my oncidium orchid had started to spike, i.e., develop a flower stalk.

Oncidium Spike

Oncidium Spike

Oncidium is a genus of orchids that includes over 500 different species. The most familiar ones have yellow flowers on a large, airy inflorescence. These are sometime called “dancing lady” oncidiums because, with a little imagination, the flowers look like women in hoop skirts. The oncidium I’m growing is the variety “Sharry Baby.” Instead of yellow flowers, the blossoms are brown/maroon and what makes them unique is that they have a chocolate scent.

Single Sharry Baby Bloom

Single Sharry Baby Blossom

My Sharry Baby was purchased in the spring. The greenhouse was getting rid of a number of them because they were past their prime. I’d never grown an oncidium before but this seemed like the right time to try it.

I read that oncidiums are easy to grow but need a lot more light than a phalaenopsis. After repotting the plant in a mixture of sphagnum moss and bark, I put the plant outside during the summer where it got some sunlight but was also protected by a tree. While outside the plant grew a new pseudobulb (an above ground storage organ) and seemed to be doing well. When the weather cooled I brought it inside and kept it in an east facing window.

While the plant looked healthy, I wasn’t sure if it would bloom or not. If it did bloom, I didn’t expect to see a spike until sometime in the spring. That’s why the December spike surprised me so.

I still don’t know how large the flower stalk will be or how long it will take to develop. All I do know is that soon I should be having a Sharry Baby oncidium blossoming in my house. When it happens, I’ll post some pictures!


The Lawn Mower – It’s Not Just for Mowing Lawn

Last week I mowed the lawn for the last time. Over the years I’ve gotten used to the fact that here in south-central PA, the final mowing of the season is usually in early December.

Besides just mowing the lawn, there were two other chores that I finished with the hold of the lawn mower. The first was dealing with leaves and the other was cleaning up flower beds.

When it comes to leaves on the lawn, some people are out raking every time a leaf falls; others seem to ignore the leaves and let nature take its course. I fall somewhere in the middle. While I’m not obsessed with getting rid of every leaf, I do know that a thick layer of leaves on the lawn can smother the grass. If the layer of leaves is very thick, I vacuum and shred the leaves . (The shredded leaves make a great mulch for the asparagus bed.)

But if the leaf layer isn’t too thick, I use the lawn mower to clean them up.  That was the case last week. The mower did a great job of shredding the leaves and removing any matting of leaves on the grass. Over the winter the shredded leaves will break down and I didn’t have to rake nor did I have to think about what to do with the leaves. I just let the mower do the work for me.

Perennial Bed before Mowing

Perennial Bed before Mowing

By December the perennial beds have finally gone dormant. There are always a lot of dead leaves and stems that I like to get rid of before winter. Some wait to clean the beds until spring, letting the dead plant material serve as a winter mulch. But since the winters aren’t that bad here, I don’t worry about a winter mulch – I just want to clean up the beds.

Perennial Bed after Mowing

Perennial Bed after Mowing

In years past I’ve gotten down and pulled the dead leaves and stems but now I’ve found an easier way to clean the beds. I raise the lawn mower to its highest setting and run it over the perennials. Daylilies are my favorite to handle this way. A couple passes over them and the clumps of dead leaves are shredded and laying on the soil. Chrysanthemums also clean up well this way. By the spring, most of the debris is broken down and any that hasn’t just gets covered with mulch. This trick also works well for cutting down a raspberry bed.

The lawn mower got a workout last week but now it’s tucked away in the garage. The lawn is neat and trim; the leaves are shredded and off the grass; the perennials are cleaned up – three late fall jobs taken care of with one machine. The lawn mower.


If there’s one plant that’s truly the holiday houseplant, it’s the poinsettia.

The Latin name of the poinsettia is Euphorbia pulcherrima. The species name for this plant  – pulcherrima – means most beautiful. While there are lots of euphorbia species, the poinsettia certainly deserves the title “most beautiful.” This plant is native to southern Mexico. The poinsettia was introduced to the US in 1825 by Joel R. Poinsett, the first U. S. ambassador to Mexico and the one for whom this plant is named.

IMG_3928When I was growing up, poinsettias were red – period. In the late ’60’s you started to see some white and pink ones. But now poinsettias come in a variety of colors and types: pink, salmon, raspberry, burgundy, yellow, white, two-tone, spotted, speckled, some with crumpled bracts, others with variegated foliage and of course, red. Mr. Poinsett would be amazed!

The showy parts of a poinsettia aren’t petals but are instead modified leaves called bracts. The true flowers are the yellowish button-like structures in the center of the bracts.

Poinsettia's true flowers just beginning to open

Poinsettia’s true flowers just beginning to open

While the true flowers of a poinsettia aren’t what draw your eye when you see it, they are what you should look at when you choose a poinsettia plant. If the true flowers are shedding pollen or falling off, it means that the plant is old and the bracts might not last very long. It’s better to choose a poinsettia with flowers that are still tight and green. This insures that the plant hasn’t blossomed and it’s more likely that the bracts will last longer.

Also look to see that there are leaves all along the stem of the plant before you buy it. If the bottom half of a poinsettia plant doesn’t have leaves, it means that the plant has been stressed and won’t last as long as a healthy plant.

Caring for a poinsettia is pretty easy. They prefer a bright or sunny spot with temperatures between 60 and 70°F. Poinsettias don’t like drafts of any kind. They do best in a location where there won’t be cold drafts from doors opening and closing or hot air from radiators or heating vents.

While poinsettias grow best in moist soil, it’s better to err on the side of keeping then too dry than too wet.  Leaving a plant sitting in a saucer of water can lead to root disease. Also, if the plants are wrapped in foil, be sure to poke holes in the bottom of the foil to prevent water from accumulating around the base of the pot. (I recently went to a garden center and all of the poinsettias were wrapped with plastic pot covers. I looked at a few of them and realized that the pot covers were full of water – needless to say I didn’t purchase any of those plants!)

With good care a poinsettia will easily retain its bracts through the holiday season. While you can get a poinsettia to rebloom with the proper care and carefully regulated periods of light and darkness in the fall, I’ve never tried it. The plants are so readily available and inexpensive that I haven’t been able to justify the work involved in getting one to rebloom! Maybe I’ll give it a try some day.

Also it’s commonly thoughts that poinsettias are poisonous but studies have shown that no part of the poinsettia plant is poisonous to people or pets. While this certainly isn’t a recommendation to eat poinsettias (!), there’s no danger having them in a house with children or pets.

006 (2)Whether you like the traditional red poinsettia or some of the newer varieties, nothing says Christmas like a poinsettia. For me, I couldn’t imagine a holiday season without some of these most beautiful euphorbia plants in my house.