Tidewater Gardening - December 2006

Painted Poinsettias?


K. Marc Teffeau

     We all know that one of the most popular holiday flowering plants is the Poinsettia. In past Tidewater Gardening columns I have written about the history of this flowering staple of the season and how to care for it once you get it home. Well how about a new twist on this rather traditional plant – let’s paint them!
      We are familiar with the usual color palate of reds, pinks and whites. We may also be somewhat adventuresome and have bought the pink, white, and streaked poinsettias with names like Monet, Jingle Bells, and Christmas Rose. And maybe even the Lemon Drop yellow ones.
      A new marketing trend for poinsettias that has appeared in garden centers the last year or so are painted poinsettias. Would you be interested in buying an Orange Splash, Autumn Joy, Golden Melody, or Golden Splash poinsettia? How about a Blue Splash, Lilac Ice, or Fuchsia Star? This new trend began in Europe about eight years ago. In Europe the poinsettia is sold more than just at Christmas and therefore people are interested in having a wider color choice. The concept arrived on our East and West Coasts around 2004.
      A blue, silver or orange poinsettia? Have the poinsettia breeders gone too far with genetic engineering?! Do we now have ‘Frankenplant’ poinsettias to deal with? No, these are the same old white and pink poinsettias with a new home decorating feature. Introduced by the Fred Gloeckner Company, a floral supplier, Fantasy Colors® poinsettias are spray dyed with specially formulated ethanol based dyes. The glitter is sealed on with a specially formulated glue/sealant. Both of these treatments will not affect the life of the poinsettia. They will continue to bloom throughout the holiday season with proper light and care.
      Many of these poinsettias found at garden centers all individually hand-dyed, so each one is unique. Although the dye is permanent, do not water from over head, water at soil level or by submerging the pot in a tub of water. The dye may run and stain clothing, carpet, etc, So for something different this Christmas season, try a painted poinsettia.
      As winter comes, our attention turns to plants growing inside the home. There are a number of houseplants that had greenery and color for the winter months inside the house. One of the most common and easy to grow is the Philodendron.
      Philodendrons are among the most common and easy-to-grow houseplants. Many tolerate low light and neglect. If well treated, they will be beautiful and dependable for many years. There are two type of philodendron, the vining types and the self-heading types. Vining types can be limited in height by the height of their support and by training and pruning. The self-heading types eventually can become very large and should be given ample space.
      This diverse group of plants ranges from vines with 3-inch heart shaped green leaves to vines with leaves 3 feet long. Some types have glossy solid green leaves, others have velvet textured patterned leaves, while some have deep red leaves and stems. The most common types of philodendrons are vining,
      Self headers send out leaves from a heavy clump of growth at their base. These often have dramatically large leaves in a variety of shapes. Most philodendrons prefer indirect or curtain-filtered sunlight but will tolerate low light. The common heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron scandens) will tolerate very low light. Night temperatures of 65 to 70° F and day temperatures of 75 to 85° F are ideal.
      It is important that you water philodendrons frequently enough to keep the soil evenly moist, but not soggy. Never let the plants stand in water. High humidity is ideal for best growth, but philodendrons tolerate the low level of humidity in most homes. You can fertilize philodendrons regularly with a dilute water-soluble houseplant fertilizer, or use a time-release fertilizer.
      If the plant gets too big in its current container , you can repot overcrowded plants at any season, using a general-purpose houseplant potting soil. If you would like to start new plants they may be propagated at any season from stem cuttings, or by air layering. Some philodendrons will produce offsets.
      Philodendrons are usually trouble free in the home. Too much or too little water plus insects and mites are the main problems. Root rot usually results from a soil mix that does not drain quickly or overly frequent watering. Yellowing of lower leaves and the death of the growing tips can be caused by too little light or over watering.
      Too much fertilizer can cause tips of leaves to curl and brown. The long leaf stalks of self-heading types are brittle. Locate these plants out of traffic paths to avoid damage. Some philodendrons contain a chemical that causes a burning sensation and can be toxic if the foliage is eaten. Keep philodendrons away from any pets or young children that may eat plants.
      There are a couple of “standard plants” in the houseplant trade that any homeowner can grow. Fiddle Leaf Philodendron (P. panduriforme) is a climber with 12-to 18-inch, fiddle-shaped, leathery leaves that are olive green. It is slow growing and durable. Blue Fiddleleaf is a variety with small waxy blue gray leaves that are closely spaced. ‘Splash Gordon’ has leaves variegated with splashes of cream.
      Tree Philodendron (P. bipinnatifidum) has a self-heading growth habit. The large, dark green leaves have deep irregular slits and can grow up to 3 feet long on a robust, erect stem. This species can grow to be a very large plant and will be too large for most homes. Tree philodendrons grow best with medium to bright light near an east, west or south window.
      Heartleaf Philodendron (P. scandens) is a well-known philodendron with 2- to 4-inch dark green, heart-shaped leaves. Heartleaf philodendron is commonly grown in hanging baskets, dish gardens and as groundcover in larger planters. It may also be trained upwards on bark-or moss-covered boards or totem poles.
      This plant is quite tolerant of low light conditions. It will grow well under artificial or existing room light, or near a north, east or west window. Heartleaf philodendrons grow well in warm temperatures of 70 to 85° F during the day and 65 to 75° F at night. These are very easy and adaptable plants. There are two common variants of heartleaf philodendron. They may occasionally be listed as separate species.
      Common Heartleaf Philodendron or Parlor Ivy (P. scandens f. oxycardium) has glossy, green leaves that are bronzed when young. ‘Aureum’ has very showy chartreuse leaves on a sturdy plant while ‘Variegatum’ has gray, green and cream streaked leaves. It shows more variegation in a cool, shaded environment.
      Velvet Philodendron (P. scandens f. micans) has velvet-textured heart-shaped leaves that are usually bronze with reddish brown undersides. ‘Miduhoi’ is sometimes known as “Jumbo Velvet Hearts”. It is larger than the species with broad coppery leaves. “Silver Sheen” Philodendron has silvery green leaves.
      Many of us have see the Elephant’s Ear Philodendron (P. domesticum). It’s narrow, arrow-shaped leaves of this climber plant are 18 to 24 inches long with wavy margins. “Calkin’s Gold” is a large-growing hybrid with golden-toned foliage striped green.
      Another sturdy climber, the Red-leaf Philodendron (P. erubescens) has 10-to 16-inches, dark green leaves that are red to copper on the underside. The stems are reddish-purple while young. There are several cultivars selected for their color. ‘Burgundy’ has reddish leaves, burgundy veins and red stems. The 8-to 12-inch leaves glisten as though polished.
     ‘Red Empress’ is the only philodendron available that has a colored and lobed leaf. The deeply lobed leaves on this self-heading cultivar are reddish. The ‘Black Cardinal’ is a self-heading philodendron, with large, 8- to 10-inch long leaves. New foliage emerges bright burgundy-red and ages to nearly black.
      The Birdsnest Philodendron (P. imbe) is a climber, with long, aerial roots and red stems, has 14 inch arrow-shaped leaves that are red on the underside.
      Velour Philodendron (P. melanochrysum) has striking heart-shaped, velvety leaves grow up to 3 feet long. They are blackish green with pale green veins. This is a climbing philodendron. As with most philodendrons , its leaves will not reach full size unless the plant is trained vertically for several years. Several hybrids with other species have produced very decorative leaf patterns.
      Split Leaf Philodendron (Monstera deliciosa) is a large-leafed plant that is not a true philodendron but is closely related. Its leaves are small and round when they first emerge, but develop holes and deep cuts as they mature. It is also known as the Swiss cheese plant. Monsteras can be grown like a tree philodendron. They will not develop the interesting perforations in their leaves if the light level is too low.
      So if you are interested in bring in some “green” into the house this winter, consider easy to grow philodendron. Happy Gardening!!!