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Friends sent us a beautiful poinsettia which was delivered from a well-known florist shop in our area. We had it only a day or so when the leaves began to curl, turn yellow, and drop off. Should we ask for a replacement?

Greenhouses and florists' shops are much cooler than our homes and have a much higher humidity which most plants need for good growth.

Poinsettias lose their leaves when the air is too dry. They do best at temperatures between 55 and 75 degrees F. if there is enough moisture in the air. Also, they need a well-drained soil, but the soil should not be allowed to dry out.

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Most poinsettias need to be watered everyday in a normal home atmosphere and should be placed in a bright window. It would not be the fault of the florist if the plant did well for a day or two before losing its leaves.

If a plant had frozen or been delivered too dry, the leaves would have been limp upon delivery, or certainly within an hour or so after delivery.

We received a beautiful cyclamen plant at holiday time. After two days flowers and leaves started to droop. We added water to the soil, which appeared to be dry. This didn't help. The plant continued to droop and now all the leaves have shriveled and turned yellow and blooms have flopped completely. What went wrong.

Cyclamen need plenty of water. Dry air in modern homes causes them to dry out fast. If they have started to flop, you need to do more than add a cup of water to the top part of the soil. You need to place the plant (pot and all) in a pan of warm water, almost even with the rim of the pot. It is even better if water is warm enough to be tingly to fingers. A thorough soaking, for about half and hour, is the only way you can revive a cyclamen that has flopped to this extent. Setting the soaking plant in a cool room during this period will help it take up water faster. Cauton: don't leave cyclament setting in water for any length of time. Water thoroughly either once a day, or every other day, depending upon temperature and lack of humidity in your home.

I brought my plants in from the cold and noticed that within a few days a thin layer of white mossy growth formed on the soil. What is it and how do I get rid of it. Will it eventually harm the plants?

It is probably one of several molds that would form on decaying organic matter in the soil. Soils that contain rotted compost, manure, or leaf mold may have a moldy fungus growth form on them.

Use the tines of a fork to remove the growth and also to stir up the soil a bit so air can penetrate. If growth hasn't formed on the leaves of your plants, then it's not powdery mildew, and you have nothing to worry about.

I bought several small Christmas cactuses from a greenhouse. I had them in my home only about three days when the buds started dropping off. Is this caused by something at the greenhouse or is it something I'm doing wrong?

Our mail has been full of ''bud drop'' complaints on holiday cactuses. It is because the air in homes is too warm and dry. Temperatures in greenhouses usually drop to 55 or 60 degrees F. at night, at which temperature holiday cactuses (and many other plants) do best. Also, greenhouses have much more humidity.

At home the soil dries out much faster and the plant cannot take up enough water to hold the buds on the plant. All plants need more water at blooming time , and usually more humidity than is found in most homes.

However, the plants should never be watered so much that soil is soppy. They will rot off at the base. If this should happen, cut off the rotted portion and root the remaining live stem.

A friend gave me five seeds of bird of paradise and I was thrilled to have all five sprout. I have cared for them according to the directions and they're thriving. However, there is no inkling on the instruction sheet of when they will bloom. Could you tell me?

Be patient, most bird of paradise (Strelitzia) take from 5 to 7 years from seed to bloom. In the meantime, they will reward you with good-looking foliage.

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