Unique Poinsettias for the Holidays

These days, poinsettias come in all shades of red, white, and pink. Some are even apricot and salmon hues.

Jingle Bells’, ‘Winter Rose Red’, ‘Whitestar’, ‘Cortez Burgundy’, etc., are just some of the names you might find on an exciting new poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) plant this year. There is probably no flower more associated with a holiday in the United States than the poinsettia is for the Christmas and New Year season. The red poinsettia certainly denotes the Christmas holiday season, but breeders have come up with lots of new, unique varieties that stand out from the mass displays of traditional poinsettias that you usually see at garden centers or grocery stores.

About Poinsettias

In tropical and subtropical regions, poinsettias grow as flowering shrubs that feed butterflies. If you live in southern California or Florida, you can grow them this way.

Poinsettias are winter-flowering shrubs that are native to Mexico, but the plants we see in stores are quite different than the tall, roadside plants seen south of the border. They were introduced to the United States in the 1820’s when Joel Roberts Poinsett, who was the first US Ambassador to Mexico, sent some cutting to his home in South Carolina. It was not an instant success as a potted plant because the flowers only lasted a few days.

With the new breed of poinsettias that we see today, the colorful bracts (colorful petal-like leaves) will last long past the holiday season. While the bracts are often called the flowers, the actual flower is in the center of the bract. Botanically speaking, it is Euphorbia pulcherrima, a member of the Euphorbia family, which is noted for often having a milky sap in the stems and leaves. This sap was considered poisonous for some time, but recent research has shown it is much less toxic than once believed. Some people might be allergic to it from skin contact and have a mild reaction and it can cause burning if there is eye contact. From reports that I have read, it is said to taste horrible and so it is unlikely a child would eat much. (Click here for more details about poinsettia toxicity from the Mayo Clinic.)

In their native southern Mexican habitat, the plants are tall shrubs (10-12 feet) with winter blooms that have smaller red bracts. Today, red poinsettias are the most popular and account for about 75% of sales, but plant breeders are constantly trying to create unique and more vibrant colors, so the color range continues to expand.

New Poinsettias

New poinsettias come in many colors and even have different floral shapes. You can find new, fun types at quality garden centers. ‘Christmas Beauty Marble’ is third back from the right. (Image by Jessie Keith)

After many years of plant breeding, poinsettias are now shorter and more compact, which makes them ideal for most homes. Plant breeding has also given us more choices for color, and the colorful bracts look good for weeks. I have seen gardeners overwinter these perennial shrubs in a bright home or greenhouse, set plants outside in the spring, and bring them indoors again in fall. Sometimes it also pays to give the plants a midsummer trim. If done properly, they will bloom again in winter, though flowers may appear after December, on occasion.

‘Cortez Burgundy’ is a much darker red than average. (Image by Mike Darcy)

Visiting a grower recently, I was amazed at the variety of unique poinsettias. The large bracts of ‘Jingle Bells’ were red with lovely white speckles across them. New rosette-style poinsettias, with smaller rose-like blooms have become popular, and ‘Winter Rose Red’ is a lovely red one that I saw. The bright  ‘Whitestar’ has huge brilliant ivory bracts that really stand out, and the deepest burgundy red, ‘Cortez Burgundy’, was on the opposite end of the poinsettia color spectrum. ‘Christmas Feelings Pink’ had all large blooms with pink bracts whereas some plants have multicolored bracts, such as ‘Christmas Beauty Marble’ (image at bottom), which had pink bracts that were outlined in cream.

Growing Poinsettias

Some growers will add multiple varieties to a pot for extra punch. The plants can be later separated if you like to keep your poinsettias after the holidays.

When purchasing your poinsettia, make your poinsettia purchase the last stop before reaching your home because they do not like cold weather. The sooner you can get the plant out of your car and into your home, the better. Select an area that has uniform bright light and keep it away from forced air heater vents. The pots are often wrapped in a foil sleeve, which should be removed when watering. Place the plant in a sink and give it a thorough soaking. After the water has drained, put the sleeve back on.

Your poinsettia will probably last well past the holiday season. If you don’t want to keep yours, before throwing it in the compost bin check with a senior living center to see if there is interest. Gifting it, even after the holidays, might provide a resident with some much-needed happiness.

Lovely rose poinsettias look beautiful alongside the ivory-flowered ‘Whitestar’.

What Are the Best Black Gold Soils for Tropical Plants?

“Hello, this is my first time contacting your company. I want to know what is the best soil mix or specialty mix for the following 4 different plants. Ideally, I am hoping that one type of soil mix would cover all below. Maybe I can add one single substrate addition, like “perlite” to balance an individual plant’s needs. However, I am open to being educated what is the beat for each one below.

  1. Alocasia Macrorrhiza Variegated Albo
  2. Peacock Ginger, Cornukaempferia ‘Jungle Gold’
  3. Philodendron, “Pink Princess”
  4. Dwarf Geometry Tree, (Bucida Buceras)

Thank you very much for your time in researching each plant’s needs and recommended the best, Black Gold product’s.” Question from Franklin of Honolulu, Hawaii

Answer: Thank you for your question from Hawaii! First I will detail the needs of each plant with respect to soil and follow up with Black Gold soil suggestions. All of these plants prefer a soil pH around neutral to slightly alkaline or acid.

  1. Variegated Alocasia (Alocasia macrorrhiza ‘Variegata’): Moist, fertile soils with adequate drainage and high organic content. (The best Black Gold soils for this plant have a very high water-holding capacity and good drainage and include Black Gold® Moisture Supreme Container Mix, Black Gold® Natural & Organic Cocoblend Potting Mix, and Black Gold Natural & Organic Ultra Coir)
  2. Peacock Ginger (Cornukaempferia aurantiiflora ‘Jungle Gold’): Choose fertile, loamy soils that drain well. (Best Black Gold Soils are fertile and offer good drainage. They include Black Gold® All Purpose Potting Mix, and Black Gold® Natural & Organic Cocoblend Potting Mix.)
  3. Red-Leaf Philodendron (Philodendron erubescens ‘Pink Princess’): Provide this Philodendron with fertile soil that is moist but well-drained. (Best Black Gold Soils are fertile and offer good drainage. They include Black Gold® All Purpose Potting Mix, and Black Gold® Natural & Organic Cocoblend Potting Mix.)
  4. Dwarf Geometry Tree (Bucida buceras): Plant this sizable tropical tree in a wide variety of soils that drain well, though those high in organic matter are preferred. We recommend planting this tree in the ground using Black Gold® Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend or Black Gold® Garden Soil.

I hope that these tips help. Follow up by using a natural & organic fertilizer formulated for tropical plants.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

How Can I Keep Plants Cool During Scorching Heatwaves?

Move potted plants to cooler locations during the most dangerous periods of a heatwave.

“It has been hotter than it’s ever been on record. How can I protect my plants from the severe heat?” Angie of Walla Walla, Washington

Answer: It’s scary when you live in an area that typically has mild summer temperatures, and you unexpectedly experience super high heat. Your tender plants are as used to it as you are, which means they’re going to struggle. From what I have read, your average June temperatures have highs around 80 degrees F. Being faced with temperatures well over 100 and even 110 degrees F must be really awful. Here are some ways to help protect your plants, especially those that are less heat tolerant. Specimens planted in full sunlight during the hottest times of the day (around 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm) need the most protection.

Four Ways to Cool Plants in High Heat

  1. Irrigate plants very well in the early morning. If temperatures exceed 100 degrees F, water again in the evening after the sun has fallen.
  2. Protect plants that are in full sunlight with floating row covers fitted with white shade cloth. These covers are easily placed over plants and removed. You can also simply purchase shade cloth and drape it over highly exposed plants. Both methods help. Gardeners in your area have also informed me that they have been moving patio umbrellas around their yards to shade their most prized plants. (One even said that her neighbor did not, and it resulted in some substantially fried rhododendrons and hostas.)
  3. Move containers into shaded areas or indoors during the most dangerous heat and water twice daily.
  4. Opt for lightweight, light-colored mulches. A cooling layer of straw around vegetable roots will really protect plants from heat, and long-fibered sphagnum peat moss makes a good, cooling cover for shade beds and containers. (Click here to learn about more mulch options.)

I also want to note that pets and wildlife also feel the stress. Leave water out for the animals and keep your pets from going outdoors for extended periods of time and walking on hot surfaces (grass only!). I also recommend that you read the following two garden articles for more helpful tips.

Cool Gardens: Designing for Summer Temperature Control

Nine Water-Saving Garden Tips to Fight Drought

Stay cool and happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

How Do I Revive Strawberry Plants?

“My strawberries were awesome until the neighbor’s chickens got into my bed and scratched them up. Since then the berries are really small and hardly worth picking. Do I need to buy new plants or will pumping up the soil be enough to bring them back to their formal glory? I am including a picture of the crop I used to get and now I can barely fill up a cereal bowl when I pick.” Question from Sylvia of Belle Plaine, Minnesota

Answer: It sounds like the chickens caused your strawberries a lot of stress, but plant age may also be an issue. Many gardeners don’t know that strawberries are a three-year crop. The parent plants only produce well for three years before declining. In the second year, it is often good to nurture one good runner from each parent plant as a replacement. Then in the third year, the parent plants should be removed. It is the cycle for keeping strawberry patches producing at no additional cost.

Nurturing the soil will certainly boost growth as will fertilization, but old strawberry plants are not revivable. To learn everything that you need to know about making the most of strawberry plants, please reach the articles below and watch the video. Oh, and some chicken wire will help keep feathered beasts from scratching them up!



Happy strawberry growing!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Are Hybrid Plants Better?

“Are hybrids better than the real thing?” Question from Dave of Springfield, Massachusetts

Answer: There is a simple and more complex answer to this question. The simple answer is that they often are better. Hybrids exist in the wild, as well as in the nurseries of plant breeders, and they often exhibit something called ‘hybrid vigor, outbreeding enhancementor heterosis. Plants with hybrid vigor have an edge because they have inherited positive traits from both parents. It is equally important to understand that plant genetics are complex, and you do not automatically get hybrid vigor by crossing two species that are able to interbreed. Different plants genetically express themselves in distinct ways, and some show heterosis more than others. Those plants and crops that commonly show hybrid vigor, express increases in productivity, plant uniformity, and overall vigor. Hybrid breeding methods are particularly useful in these crops: beets, broccoli, corn, peppers, rice, spinach, sunflowers, tomatoes, and watermelon as well as many common flowers.

Modern Crops and Human Intervention

It is also important to understand that when it comes to common, coveted garden vegetables, crop plants, and flowers valued by humans, there is no “real thing” in the garden–meaning these plants have been changed by humans to the point where garden varieties do not exist in the wild. Here are four good examples.

  1. Corn has been selected over thousands of years by man and has never existed in the wild as corn (click here to learn more).
  2. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale are all the same species, Brassica oleracea, an edible leafy plant from Eurasia. The widely different garden forms are all a product of selection and hybridization by humans.
  3. Wild apples, and those selected over thousands of years by humans, bear little resemblance to one another.
  4. The same trends can be applied to popular garden flowers, ancient or new, such as roses (Rosa hybrids, selected for thousands of years), dahlias (Dahlia hybrids, selected since Aztec times), and the more recent coneflower (Echinacea hybrids).

Old and New Hybrids

Some garden varieties are old heirlooms selected over generations, while others are products of new hybridization and selection efforts. But consistently, where people have had a hand, you will find plants with bigger, tastier, more colorful fruits produced in higher quantities on plants that make harvesting easier, or you will find bigger, prettier flowers produced in greater quantities on well-branched plants.

The greatest hybridization efforts of this and the last century have worked to battle common diseases and pest susceptibilities in plants. These hybrid traits are especially important because they help to feed the world more efficiently without the need for harmful pesticides, fungicides, etc.

I hope that these answers help!

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist


Award-Winning Flowers for 2020

Echinacea Sombrero® Baja Burgundy (Image by AAS Winners)

The beginning of the year is always filled with award shows to highlight the best-of-the-best. In the entertainment industry, there are the Oscars, Grammys, Emmys, and Tony Awards. In the horticultural world, there are All-America Selections, Fleuroselect, RHS Award of Garden Merit (UK), and other more regional awards for the best-of-the-best garden plants. Plant introductions that receive awards are marketed as having better flowers, stronger stems, disease resistance, unique foliage, and different growth habits. Overall, they are somehow improved or different relative to what is already on the market. Growers and garden centers then sell winning plants to lucky gardeners.  The following is a small fraction of new or notable plants that have received some kind of award for 2020.

All-America Selections Winners

Tip Top Rose nasturtium (Image thanks to All-America Selections)

One of the most active organizations for plant trials and awards is the All-America Selections (AAS). Founded in 1932, it has introduced award-winning annuals, perennials, and vegetables ever since. Its mission statement is, “To promote new garden varieties with superior garden performance judged in impartial trials in North America.” The AAS has about 200 display gardens coast to coast, which include those in public botanical gardens, arboreta, retail garden centers, university gardens, and municipalities.  Where I live in Oregon, there are AAS display gardens at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City, Oregon State University Extension Service in Redmond, and Territorial Seed Company in Cottage Grove. Most states have comparableble publically accessible AAS trial gardens.

Thus far, 2020 has given us three new AAS award-winning flowers. These are Sombrero® Baja Burgundy coneflower (Echinacea Sombrero® Baja Burgundy), Tip Top Rose nasturtium (Tropaeolum minus ‘Tip Tip Rose’), and American Gold Rush black-eyed-Susan (Rudbeckia ‘American Gold Rush’). (Tip Top Rose nasturtium also happens to be a 2019 Fleuroselect winner.)

Sombrero® Baja Burgundy coneflower has deep violet-red blossoms and makes an excellent cut flower. It was trialed over three tough winters, and the AAS Judges noted that was a standout for hardiness, heavy flowering, and showed very sturdy branching. All coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) are good wildlife plants that attract many pollinators and seed-eating birds.

Tip Top Rose nasturtium, another AAS winner, is a compact, bushy bedding plant with rose-colored flowers that rise above the green foliage. The flowers do not fade as they age, and the strong, uniform plant continues to flower well through the season. Nasturtiums are also excellent choices for pollinator gardens, and both the leaves and flowers are edible. (Click here to discover more edible flowers).

Fleuroselect Winners

Silene ‘Sibella Carmine’ (Image thanks to Fleuroselect)

Fleuroselect is another plant trial and award organization that is international but based in Europe. The current membership is comprised of about 75 bedding-plant breeders, producers, and distributors with a goal of evaluating new bedding plants and contributing to the development and advancement of the industry as a whole. Two promising Fleuroselect Gold Medal Winners for 2020 are Shasta daisy Madonna (Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Madonna’) and nodding catchfly Sibella Carmine (Silene pendula ‘Sibella Carmine’).

Fleuroselect refers to ‘Madonna’ one as the next Shasta daisy star. Unlike most other Shastas, it reblooms. The easy-care perennial forms new flowers over the fading ones and blooms from summer to early autumn. It looks good in pots and containers as well as beds and landscape areas.

When spilling from a hanging basket or pot, ‘Sibella Carmine’ looks spectacular. It bears loads of reddish-purple, semi-double flowers that bloom all season and don’t require deadheading. This is one that will most certainly become a common sight at garden centers across the country. It requires regular moisture to perform to its fullest, so I recommend planting it in Black Gold® Moisture Supreme Container Mix for best success.

Oregon Association of Nurseries’ Winners

Hibiscus moscheutos Summerific® Evening Rose (Image thanks to Proven Winners®)

On a more local level where I live, the Oregon Association of Nurseries (OAN) has its list of winners. Every August, the OAN has a large grower-oriented trade show called the Farwest Show, which Black Gold attends every year. Within the show, there is a section called New Varieties Showcase where growers feature some of their best new plant introductions. This is one of my favorite areas to visit at the show, and I always learn about new plants on the market. Show attendees vote on their favorites, and winners are selected and given an Award of Merit.

Last year, one of my favorite plants from this display was the hardy hibiscus Summerific® Evening Rose (Hibiscus moscheutos Summerific® Evening Rose), which won an Award of Merit. This hardy hibiscus has bright rose flowers and near-black foliage. Hardy hibiscus is becoming more popular in our area, and I now often see it in gardens. They are easy to grow, prefer full sun, and bloom late in the season, giving the late-summer and autumn garden a splash of color.

All of the plants mentioned should be available at garden centers this spring. Many will have special tags to let potential buyers know that this plant has been selected for an award. Award-winners are a safe choice for gardeners looking for something sure to perform beautifully. I always like to try new plants in my garden each year and with offerings like this, my list for 2020 continues to grow.

Click here to read more about award-winning annuals that you can grow from seed.