October 20, 2014
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The Magic Garden
Cutting remarks for the winter
Morton White

We just purchased a Poinsettia. What is the proper care?
Richard, Lincoln, MA

Poinsettia need warm temperatures and plenty of light. A light liquid fertilizer with the watering should help keep the color. It is important that the darkness be maintained at night without interruption to maintain the color of the bracts. I would transplant in January to a clay pot with a third sand and quality potting soil as the supplement to a two inch larger pot. If you plant was purchased from a store that lowers the heat below 55, the plant may have been dormant. The affects of dormancy do not show up for two weeks or more. Giving it water will only exacerbate the problem by rotting the roots. Let the plant rest, if dormant, until it starts to produce new shoots. Resume giving the plant water at that time.

I was thinking of cutting back my blueberries and making some cuttings. Any suggestions?
George, Boaz, Al

Since you are in zone 7, I would wait until spring to do it outdoors. You would do better to make the root indoors. Take the ends in eight inch cuts. I would take as many as possible. You will need a six inch deep box to accommodate the cuttings. Make the bottom cut as acute as possible. Take two inches off the top and shave off all the leaves except two or three at the top. You could use a root hormone, auxin, but blueberries root easily without it. Place the prepared cuttings two inches deep into the box filled with coarse sand. Mist the cuttings every day. Do not pour water into the box. They will root in 30 days or more. When they have sufficient root, you can transfer them into peat pots with a medium of a third sand and the rest potting soil. You are good to go in the spring for outdoor planting.

When can I cut my forsythia back? They are all over the ground.
Kevin, New London, CT

You can cut them a foot from the ground to allow raking under them. Be mindful that they are forming buds now for early spring blooming. You could wait to see if the buds swell and cut them for forced blooming in water for the parlor table this fall or in early spring. If you would like to start new plants, follow the instructions to George up above.

What are some plants that will remove metals from the soil?
David, San Francisco, CA

All soils, especially acidic, have some metals in them. Most are not harmful. Heavy metals can contaminate soil in excess. According to the EPA, sunflowers were used in Chernobyl, Ukraine to remove contaminants in a process called Rhizofiltration. Plants were raised in greenhouses in contaminated water before planting at the site. Alpine pennycress is used for Phytoextraction of zinc and cadmium. Cattails were used in Tennessee to absorb excess coal dust carbon. Carbon is not metallic but can putrefy soils. Some metals can show up as indicators with color change in plants. Some house plants like spider plants are effective in removing pollutants from the air. It is best to get soils tested before planting vegetables or other edibles, if you have any hint of pollutants.

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