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Poinsettias For The Holidays Or Forever (If You Enjoy A Challenge)

Poinsettias are among the most stunning features of a Christmas display.  Their large, vibrantly colored flowers draw the eye directly, and quite often are very capable of occupying large spaces.  In fact, sometimes they’re simply too large for the spots we’ve planned for them.  While you’ll have to work out how best to accommodate your new poinsettias, we can offer some tips on how to keep them in tip-top shape over the holidays and beyond.  Be aware that maintaining poinsettias for bloom in subsequent years is a challenge in our area, where winter temperatures are simply too cold for poinsettias outdoors.

If you read our earlier blog entitled “Euphorbia Euphoria!”, you may remember that poinsettias are indeed Euphorbia pulcherrima, native to Mexico and Central America.  The large colorful petals are actually bracts, and the true flowers are the little greenish-yellow Martian stemmed eyeballs in the middle.  Poinsettias are now cultivated around the globe, and in frost-free climates, grow into quite large shrubberies.

When shopping for poinsettias, select well-proportioned plants with large, dark green leaves.  Damaged or yellowing leaves may indicate neglect or weakness.  When transporting poinsettias from the point of purchase (say, Randy’s Nursery and Perennial Gardens), make sure that the plants are not exposed to the cold, as even a little exposure can damage them.  Situate your poinsettias in a very bright or sunny location, where they’ll get at least 6 hours of bright, indirect light daily, they are not touching any warm or cold surfaces, and are protected from drafts.  They prefer daytime temperatures in the 60-70F range, and nighttime temperatures between 55-60F, so you may have to move them at night into a cooler room.  Following these tips will keep the blooms fresh through the holiday season.

In terms of sustenance, poinsettias require water only when the soil feels dry.  As with other potted plants, soak the soil completely and discard any standing water afterwards.  If your poinsettias are wilting and dropping leaves, they’ve been kept too dry.  If the leaves are turning yellow and falling off, too wet.  A water soluble fertilizer applied once or twice a month should keep your poinsettias well fed.

If you want to keep your poinsettia(s) for next Christmas, continue to grow them in a sunny location until the middle of April.  Then pinch them back to 6 to 8 inches and continue to grow in a sunny spot until the low temperatures in your area rise to above 50F. In June, repot the poinsettias into slightly larger containers.  You can sink the poinsettia pots, up to their rims, in lightly shaded, well-drained soil. Because the poinsettias are in pots, you’ll probably have to keep a closer eye on the watering to keep them properly hydrated.  Fertilize several times a month from spring into fall and water when dry.

In the fall, bring the potted poinsettia pots inside before the temperatures drop to 55F.  You can sun your poinsettias during warmer days; just don’t forget to bring them back in before it gets too chilly in the evenings.  For eight to ten weeks, starting in early October, place the plants in complete darkness for 14 hours, preferably at night.  During the day, the plants need six to eight hours of bright sunlight to induce blooming.

The two links below from Clemson give details on how to maintain poinsettias on a long-term basis.  It does require somewhat of a passion for poinsettias, however.  The link from Michigan State University gives instructions for colder climates, but it does have illustrations that may prove useful.

Enjoy your poinsettias throughout the holidays, and then decide whether you want to start your own poinsettia nursery at home.  Happy Holidays!

Sources:

http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/hot_topics/2009/01poinsettia.html

http://www.aces.uiuc.edu/vista/html_pubs/point/point.htm

http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/indoor/flowering/hgic1561.html

 

(Image:  Vendita stelle di Natale © Studio Gi – Fotolia.com)

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