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Growin’ Green

Give Christmas Cactus Plants A Try

By Brent Gray


If you’ve never had a Christmas cactus you should give these beautiful plants a try. These succulents can be forced into bloom—actually we’re not forcing anything, but taking advantage of a natural process called photoperiodism, the triggering of flowering or other growth responses of a plant due to changes in the length of the light and dark periods. Rather than manipulating the light period to initiate flower formation, you can take the easy way out and purchase a plant whose buds are showing color. Carried-over plants from last year should be kept in a semi-dormant state with little water and reduced light from September to October. Leave it outdoors during the cool nights and short days of these two months so that flower buds will form. Bring it indoors on those nights that frost threatens, and put it in a room or closet that can be darkened for more than twelve continuous hours. Put back outside during the day. After the buds begin to form increase the light and lightly water until color shows in the buds. When buds are showing color, it is safe to move the plant indoors to a cool, sunny location for flowering.
While blossoming, do not overwater them, but keep the soil slightly moist. After blooming, they start their growth stage and should be given more water and fertilized as new growth increases. They will continue to grow until you harden them off in September. Christmas cactus bloom best when slightly pot-bound. For more detailed information on these plants and other holiday plants call your Extension office and request  publication 2309, “Holiday Houseplants.”

Vegetables
If you are not growing cool-season vegetables, you should consider “covering” that barren vegetable plot with a cover crop. November is not too late to sow a cover crop of Austrian winter peas in north Mississippi. Unless we have exceptionally cold temperatures after sowing, these peas should germinate and grow well if sown in early November. It is probably too late to sow crimson clover as this plant needs a period of warm weather to get established. Cover or green manure crops prevent washing, keep the soil loose through the winter, build nitrogen in the soil, and provide green manure humus when you turn them under in the spring. If your property is subject to roaming deer, be prepared to take preventive measures to keep these large “rodents” from making a feast of your winter peas.

Fruit
Fruit bearing trees, vines, shrubs and brambles can be planted now. Fruit trees to plant would include peaches, apples, cherries, pears, plums and nectarines. Grapes, muscadines, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries can also be planted during November and December. Be sure to plant two or more cultivars of blueberries for cross-pollination and fruit set. Check with your nurserymen if you are purchasing one muscadine plant to make sure it is a variety that will set fruit. Some muscadine varieties have only female flowers and would require another variety as a male pollinator for fruit set.

Groundcovers And Lawns
Those of us with huge Bermuda or zoysia lawns are grateful for the first killing frost that abruptly puts an end to the weekly mowing ritual. Cool season grasses like fescue and Kentucky bluegrass still are green, but cold nights and cloudy winter days have slowed growth of these grasses to a crawl resulting in less mowing. Bermuda lawns that have been overseeded with ryegrass will still need mowing to look neat and trim. Ryegrass should grow and remain green all winter.
Remember to keep fallen leaves off all lawn grasses. Matting of fallen leaves can smother grass, even dormant grasses. Removing fallen leaves from evergreen groundcovers is a different matter. I personally do not worry about autumn leaves falling on my English Ivy, periwinkle or monkeygrass ground cover areas. English ivy and monkeygrass quickly outgrow any leaves that may fall into the beds; in fact, the ability of these groundcovers to “consume” fallen leaves is just another good reason to use them under deciduous trees instead of trying to grow grass. I do remove thick layers of leaves that have fallen on my prostrate junipers like ‘Blue Rug’ or ‘Blue Pacific.’ I have found that if leaves are allowed to remain in a thick mat on juniper groundcover throughout the winter, by next spring the foliage under the leaves is yellowing and dying from lack of sunlight and air.

Trees And Shrubs
Hardwood cuttings are typically taken in December, January and February. What is a hardwood cutting? This type of cutting is made from a plant while it is dormant or after it has completed its annual growth and the wood has had time to become hardened. Examples of plants that can be propagated by hardwood cuttings are althea, quince, wisteria, crapemyrtle, hydrangeas, rose, and spirea. This method will also work with many evergreens, including junipers and yew.
Cuttings should be from tip growth, from 4 to 8 inches long with four to six buds per cutting. Put the cuttings in an outdoor propagation box or directly outdoors in a well-drained soil. Stick cuttings deep, leaving only the top 4 inches exposed. Keep soil evenly moist and protect cuttings from drying winter winds. Watch for new growth in spring. When new foliage emerges and the roots are well-developed transplant to a container or to a place in the garden. These young plants will need coddling through their first year as they establish a good root system and begin to form branches. Keep them well watered and fertilized all through the growing season.
Lelia Scott Kelly, Ph.D., writes North Mississippi Gardening Tips monthly and is the state consumer horticulture specialist for Mississippi State University Extension Service. Her office is at the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona.

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