December 29, 2008


Jean Field, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

With Christmas just around the corner, Floridians are shopping at local nurseries and garden centers for the fiery red bracts of the traditional holiday plant, the Poinsettia. No other flower displays such a brilliant splash of red color during the festive weeks of December and January than this member of the spurge family, Euphorbia pulcherrima.

Native to southern Mexico where they become ten foot shrubs, Americans can thank Mexican Ambassador Joel Poinsett for bringing the Poinsettia to the United States in 1825. The Ecke family of Southern California began growing them on their farm in the early 1900’s as a cut flower and Christmas plant. Today there are over 100 varieties available in red, white, pink and enticing combinations of the three. Look at the tag in your next potted Poinsettia. Most likely it was shipped from the Ecke farm near San Diego, as 85% of the Poinsettias shipped from the United States originated at the Ecke farms outside San Diego.

The part of the plant commonly referred to as the flower isn’t a flower at all, but a modified leaf or a bract. These bracts change color to the spectacular hues of red, pink or white that brightens the coffee tables of our homes during the winter holidays. The true flowers are yellow pollen-bearing and grow in the center out of little green cups called cyathium. Take a close look at these flowers next time you buy Poinsettias as an indicator of plant freshness. Flowers that have shed their pollen will soon drop their colorful bracts. Plants with pollen-covered flowers will hold their bracts much longer.

Poinsettias are NOT poisonous, contrary to what you may have been told by well-meaning neighbors. The white latex sap in the stems can give dermatitis to sensitive people, however, according to the national information center for poison control centers, the plant is not considered poisonous or toxic. A study at Ohio State University showed that a 50 pound child who ate 500 bracts would have developed a bad stomach ache at best. Poinsettias also are not poisonous to your dog or cat. According to the ASPCA, "poinsettia ingestions typically produce only mild to moderate gastrointestinal tract irritation, which may include drooling, vomiting and/or diarrhea." So, you may want to keep the plants out of reach, but you need not fear a fatal reaction if part of the poinsettia is eaten.

Indoor care
A bright, cool room works best for healthy, blooming indoor Poinsettias. A dark room or a hot patio will result in leaf drop and loss of colorful bracts. Ideal temperatures for best leaf and bract retention are day temperatures of 70-75 degrees and evening temperatures of 60-65 degrees. Keep them out of drafts. Water when the top 1 inch of soil dries out to the touch. Do not let Poinsettias sit in standing water.

Outdoor care
In central and south Florida, Poinsettias can be planted outside in a sunny, well drained site. Be sure and provide 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness each night after October 1st or they won’t bloom. Fertilize with a complete slow-release fertilizer monthly from March through October at the rate of 2 pounds per 100 square feet. Be sure and apply magnesium sulfate (Mg) to each plant twice a year at the rate of 1 teaspoon per square foot or 2 cups per 100 square feet. Magnesium deficiencies are unsightly and are much easier to prevent than to control.

Make your own Poinsettia plants by taking 6” cutting of the new growth with your sharp, clean pruners. Immerse the cut end of the stem in hot water for 1 minute, then dip the stem immediately in cold water to seal it. Place 2-3 cuttings in a 1- gallon pot with well-drained, fresh potting soil and place it in a warm, bright location not in direct sunlight. As the root ball grows, gradually increase light and decrease water. Within a couple months you will have a new potted Poinsettia to plant outside or share with a lucky friend.

Poinsettia Trivia

  • $220 million dollars worth of Poinsettias are sold during the Christmas season

  • 80% of Poinsettias purchased are by women

  • 80% are purchased by people 40 years of age or older

  • 90% of the world’s Poinsettias are exported from the United States

  • 85% of potted plant sales during the Christmas season arePoinsettias

Brighten the porch or the dining room of a friend this Christmas season with the gift of a Poinsettia. With bright light and moderate temperature and water, this cheerful native from Mexico will brighten your home for months to come.

Poinsettias For Florida, Indoors and Outdoors: Robert J. Black, Rick K. Schoellhorn
Perfect Poinsettias: UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service
The Poinsettia Pages: University of Illinois Extension
Poinsettias No Longer in the Dog House -

December 22, 2008

Finding the Help You Need with Volunteer Projects

Jean Rogalsky, 4-H Youth Development Agent, Pinellas County Extension

Everyone needs some help some time. Whether you are part of a government agency, a non-profit, or the PTA, there are times when additional people are needed to get the job done. For example, the school fund raiser will require a number of people to organize, promote, and facilitate the project. There is usually one person who chairs the committee responsible for finding volunteers and assigning them tasks. It goes without saying that a community can accomplish so much more when volunteers come together to organize and host an event. So, how does one convince people to donate time and energy from their already busy schedules to assist in a special project?

Just as it is true with other activities, if you want to find and organize volunteers, you must plan and be organized. Much has been written on the research that has occurred in the area of volunteer development. Several volunteer management models exist. While someone looking for just a few volunteers to help with a school or club event may not think following a model is necessary, most principles laid out in the models hold true no matter the size of the project or the number of volunteers required. After studying the models, it is apparent that the research supports good planning and common sense as the tools to successful volunteer management.

Florida 4-H faculty have embraced the ISOTURE model. The ISOTURE model was developed by Dr. Milton Boyce, former National 4-H Program Leader, USDA. The acronym stands for the steps of Identification, Selection, Orientation, Training, Utilization, Recognition, and Evaluation. These steps offer a systematic guide for anyone to develop a volunteer program, whether it is for a large organization or a one-time club fundraiser.


Identification - the process of identifying the positions and finding people who have the skills and attitude essential to fill specific positions. After you identify the tasks, create a role description for each one. This will let potential volunteers know which skills are needed and the time commitment. Write an interesting description to attract more people.

Selection - the process of studying the skills of prospective volunteers and determining their match with existing positions. Asking one or two people to do a particular task may be more effective than sending out a general plea for help. A person may feel honored if their special talents are recognized and then agree to help. Being asked as another “warm body” isn’t as special.

Orientation - this process serves as the initial stage in helping the volunteer understand the culture of the organization and their place in it. Be sure volunteers understand the expectations of their role and the “big picture” of the project. Volunteers should feel part of the team.

Training - this is the process of providing volunteers with specific knowledge and skills to carry out their position successfully. Depending on the nature of the volunteer’s skills, experience, and position, training time will vary. This is the time where a volunteer may find out that the assignment isn’t the best fit. It is better to find out during training than after the event is over. If the experience is not positive, chances are a volunteer will not return.

Utilization - this is the process of putting the volunteer to work. Volunteers could be doing something else. Make sure there is always work ready when the volunteer arrives.

Recognition - this is the process of recognizing and rewarding quality volunteer efforts. Everyone likes to be recognizes for their efforts. Small tokens of recognition can be presented at any time, not just at the end of the event or year.

Evaluation - this is the process of monitoring the volunteer’s service and the results of the project. Most people assess an event after it is over or make notes for next time. Be sure to ask the volunteers how they feel things went. You may be surprised.

The idea of using a development model may seem daunting to some people. In reality, what the model does is set out logical steps to organizing your volunteer program for your next event.

The 4-H Youth Development Program largely owes its success to the large number of dedicated volunteers who assist who delivering the program. Volunteer development is an important part of every 4-H Agent’s work. By utilizing the ISOTURE model, Florida 4-H Agents and staff are taking positive steps to insure that Florida 4-H will remain for another 100 years.
For more detailed information on ISOTURE, please go to:

December 15, 2008

Paper or Plastic? No Thanks.

Mary Campbell, Urban Sustainability Agent, Pinellas County Extension

So what is the big deal with paper and plastic bags? These handy little totes have been around for as long as I can remember. When I was young, it was all about paper bags, which seems hard to imagine now. When did we get so sensitive to these throw away carriers and why can’t we continue to use them and then toss them away without a thought? Our diminishing natural resources, energy use, and waste production are the big three reasons why we must take another look at “paper or plastic?”

Fifty years ago, plastic bags -- starting first with the sandwich bag -- were seen in the United States as a more sanitary and environmentally friendly alternative to the deforesting paper bag. Estimates indicate that 100 billion plastic bags are used each year. Less than 1 – 3% of all plastic bags are recycled. Plastic bags start as crude oil, natural gas, or other petrochemical product. After being heated, shaped, and cooled, the plastic is ready to be flattened, sealed, punched, or printed on. Four out of five grocery bags in this country are plastic. Americans consume more than 10 billion paper bags each year in addition to all those plastic bags.

Let’s compare paper to plastic: The Winner is




Natural Resources: Paper bags are made from trees and about 14 million trees are cut down each year to make paper bags. Plastic bags require 12 million barrels of oil to produce the 100 billion plastic bags used annually.




Energy: It takes 4 times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as a plastic bag.




Recycling: It takes 98% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than a pound of paper. When one ton of plastic bags is reused as something else other than plastic bags or recycled, the energy equivalent of 11 barrels of oil is saved.




Disposal: Plastic takes up less room in the landfill, but paper is biodegradable. Some reports indicate that paper bags do not biodegrade in landfills due to a lack of oxygen. An estimated 4 billion plastic bags end up as litter each year.




Toxins: The production of paper bags generates 70 % more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.




Transport: Paper weighs more to transport.




Some manufacturers have introduced biodegradable or compostable plastic bags made from starches, polymers or poly-lactic acid, and no polyethylene—though these remain prohibitively expensive and account for less than 1 percent of the market. North America and Western Europe account for nearly 80 percent of plastic bags used. Bags are increasingly common in developing countries as well. Supermarkets around the world are voluntarily encouraging shoppers to bring their own bags. Some stores have begun to provide a small, per-bag refund or are charging extra for each plastic bag.
Try to go at least one week without accumulating any new plastic bags. If every shopper took just one less bag each month, this could eliminate the waste of hundreds of millions of bags each year. Make a commitment and Take the Reusable Bags Pledge.
UF Paper or Plastic? -
Take the Reusable Bags Pledge:

December 8, 2008

Here’s to A Happy Healthy Holiday

By Nan Jensen, Families and Consumers Agent, Pinellas County Extension

Ah the holidays are here! The parties, the tempting foods, the late nights with little sleep trying to accomplish those extra chores, visits from Aunt “M” and Uncle Mo. So much for that routine you were used to following.

Many times, the holidays and all the “extras “they bring with them can cause extra stress and take the “joy” out of what should be a joyful occasion. Here are some tips to keep your holidays happy and healthy.

Hit the grocery stores and fill the pantry with healthy foods that you and you family will enjoy. Fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals are good choices. These types of foods will help you deal with those extra stresses during this hectic season. My Pyramid is a helpful tool to use for tracking your food choices and offers helpful suggestions on making healthy ones.

Don't skip meals. And especially not breakfast! You are more likely to over-indulge in unhealthy foods such the hors d'oeuvres at an after-work party, or the "quick fix" of pizza or fries on the way home from shopping or work.

While holiday treats are often delicious they are not necessarily nutritious. When you are at those social gatherings, pace yourself when faced with tempting goodies. Seek out healthier food choices, such as the fresh fruit or veggie tray, and limit your intake of the delicious but not so nutritious items such as the cheesecake, “Pigs in a Blanket” and eggnog. And before heading out for that holiday gathering, enjoy a small healthy meal at home. You'll be less likely to overdo it on the goodies later. For information on the “calorie cost” of those holidays goodies and what activities will help you manage those calories go to

Stay active, even if you can’t follow your usual exercise routine. Socialize with your holiday guests by asking them to take a walk with you. After the holidays, you can return to your usual fitness routine. Also, taking a walk before a meal may prevent you from overeating.

Identify what causes you stress and find ways around it. Some people dislike crowded stores. Why not try shopping on-line or order by phone or mail from one of the great catalogues you tucked away in a drawer. Take some time off work during the week to shop when stores are less busy. Make a home-made gift or donate time or money to a charity in honor of the gift recipient. To help you manage stress anytime of year the University of Florida has some helpful publications at

Get plenty of sleep. During this busy time of year, don't shortchange yourself on sleep. Most of us require about seven to eight hours of sleep each night, and more during periods of extra stress. That goes for the children too. If all of you are well-rested you can enjoy those special family traditions that make the holidays so memorable.

Learn to say no particularly if you are overcommitted and who isn’t? Don't feel guilty. Remember that you have the option to politely decline invitations - or cancel or reschedule a few events if need be. Save your energy for the things you feel are important.

Try to spend some “alone time” on something just for you. Just 15 minutes each day doing an activity you enjoy can help refresh and re-energize you.

Enjoy the holidays and make them happy and healthy ones.

December 4, 2008

Make a New Year’s Resolution to Register for Classes from Pinellas County Extension

Pinellas County Extension offers residents a wide variety of classes to help them make sustainable decisions. On-line registration is available for all classes. Next month look for the new Solutions in 30 lunch break on-line classes.

The classes being offered in January are:

Pesticide CEUs:
January 15th – Limited Commercial Landscape Maintenance 'Roundup'
January 27th – Best Management Practices

Families and Consumers:
January 8th – Families Cooking Together Series begins
January 9th – Families Cooking Together Series begins

Lawn and Garden:
January 22nd – FSG -Nine Principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping
January 29th – FSG - Water-Wise

4-H Youth:
January 10th – The Big Red Tomato

Sustainable Living:
January 7th - Green Office Webinar
January 15th – Green Living Webinar

You can register for classes at look for the online registration button on the right hand side.

December 1, 2008

Adjust Landscape Water Schedule During Cooler Weather

By Dale Armstrong, Coordinator Florida Yards & Neighborhoods

Many people do not realize that even in central Florida cooler winter temperatures result in little or no growth in plants and grass. I rarely mow my grass between November and March because it just does not need it. Running a mower through your yard in the winter creates wear and tear on the grass, wastes gasoline, and needlessly generates pollution.

Slower growth during the cooler weather means less water is required to keep our landscape plants happy. Irrigation sprinkler use is currently limited to one day per week with all water sources except reclaimed. Since your landscape is adapted to that schedule during warm weather, it may be that in cooler temperatures it can easily go on a two week or longer cycle between watering with sprinklers if no rain is received during that time.

You can easily make that change by turning the sprinkler controller clock to OFF and marking your calendar for the day before your watering day two weeks out. When that day arrives, if no significant rain has fallen (at least ½ inch) you may easily turn the clock to ON or RUN so it operates the next day as scheduled. The day after the sprinklers run, turn off the clock and mark your calendar again to start the manual cycle over. If temperatures have been particularly cool during those two weeks and the landscape is looking okay, you might even consider leaving the clock off for a third week.

Since this routine will get you in the habit of observing your landscape for signs of when water is needed, you should be able to save a significant amount of water and still maintain an attractive yard. When temperatures start to rise in the spring and plants have need of more water, you simply turn the sprinkler controller clock back to ON or RUN so it operates in the auto mode.

Above all, stay informed about changes in outdoor water use restrictions. The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) recently tightened water restrictions in Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Pasco Counties due to extreme drought conditions. Even watering plants manually with a hose is now limited to certain times of the day, and violators of restrictions will now be ticketed on first offense.

To learn more about these changes please read the SWFWMD news release at the first link below and keep in mind that you should also check with your water supplier for any special restrictions, such as day of the week you may water. Use the second link below to find your specific local restrictions. Look for the local government that bills you for water.