Holiday First-Aid

Azaleas go through a rugged rigmarole when we attempt to force them to bloom during the holidays. First, they are yanked from peat beds and forced into pots that are too small. They are sent to a cooling chamber for a false winter, then pulled out to what seems like spring, and they come into bloom.

Azaleas like coolness and light. Keep them well watered but allow excess water to drain out.

Cyclamen, another plant used during the Christmas season, can last in good condition until Easter if its requirements are met.

First, it is not a hothouse plant but one that prefers cool temperatures. Many houses are too warm for cyclamens, so their ideal location is near a window where coolness comes through the glass. A plant that blooms as much as a cyclamen needs lots of light--but without burning sun.

The first thing to do after getting a cyclamen is to remove the foil paper. If you'd rather not, at least make a large hole in the bottom so the excess water can get out. More cyclamens are killed with kindness--by overwatering--than by anything else. If the plant is drowning--and it does so easily--it will look wilted, because the roots are rotting off and can't supply moisture to the leaves. Always check the soil to see if the plant is damp before you give it water. Occasionally adding a small amount of liquid fertilizer to the water will keep the plant looking vigorous.

Keeping poinsettias alive is a common Christmas-time job. They are rather touchy about any kind of change and will drop their leaves to show it.

Move them from a bright area to a dark area or from a humid room to a dry one and you'll find fallen leaves. Overwatering will produce the same results. These temperamental plants also dislike drafts and rapid changes in temperature. Is it any wonder, then, that so many of them lose their leaves?

If they do start shedding, all is not really lost, because the red, white or pink bracts (what appear to be the "flowers") will remain in good condition. If all else fails, take heart. A common practice at nurseries when poinsettia leaf drop occurs is to fill in the missing part with Christmas greens and add a pretty bow. It works beautifully; try it.

Let summer bloomers have a rest. Fuchsias should not be pushed into more bloom with fertilizer. Let them rest until you cut them back. Along the coast, that should be around the first of the year; inland, it should be after danger of frost is past. Dahlias, tuberous begonias, caladiums and gloxinias also need a rest now. Withhold water when the top is dead; dig them up carefully, and store them in vermiculite or peat moss. Such tropicals are the opposite of our native oaks, which can't stand wet feet during the hot season. These tropical tubers will easily rot if they are allowed to have wet roots while they're cold.

Lemonade is the best medium for making cut flowers last longer, according to the California Cooperative Extension. That means we have a new use for the abundance of lemons found in some home gardens. The recommendation calls for two tablespoons of lemon juice and one tablespoon of sugar mixed into one quart of water. Adding a slight amount ( 1/2 teaspoon) of household bleach will make the mixture even more effective. Cutting the stems a second time after they are in the solution will help keep them open to absorb water and nutrients.

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