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GROW POINSETTIAS: CHOOSE THE RIGHT PLANT
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Christmas Shopping is upon us, and as we browse through the mall, we can’t help but be tempted by the ever-colorful Poinsettia. Impulse buying is a weakness with some of us. Nevertheless, randomly grabbing a plant while on your way to the checkout counter is never wise. Take time when choosing your Poinsettia and you can be rewarded with extraordinary color at Christmas. One of the most important steps in learning How To Grow Poinsettias begins with making the right choices.
When choosing your Poinsettia:
- Make sure it has plentiful dark green foliage, nothing with yellow, light colored, or with torn or drooping leaves.
- Check the plant over for insects.
- The beautiful red flowers are actually leaves (bracts). Make sure they are fully colored. If they are still partly green, the color just won’t last.
- The flowers are the tiny yellowish buds in the center that you might not have even noticed. Make sure they are tightly clustered. If the buds are shedding pollen, the plant will disappoint you every time. Choose another.
- Avoid buying if wrapped in plastic or paper. The leaves may turn yellow or fall off.
When you purchase your Christmas Poinsettia, bundle it up before taking it to the car. It is a tropical plant from Mexico, and doesn’t like our wintertime weather. It is a good idea to have the car heated up for the trip home. Just don’t let the heat blow directly on it. It doesn’t like that either!
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Once at home, it is simple enough to:
- Place it in a spot with bright, indirect light (not direct sun).
- Give it a good drink of water, but make sure the pot can drain well. They like moist, but not soggy soil.
- Remove the decorative foil around the pot, OR else feel the bottom of the pot to locate the drainage holes. Poke holes in the foil so it will drain properly. Never let a Poinsettia sit in water. It will kill it.
- Do not feed the plant while it is blooming.
- They prefer cool indoor temperatures such as 60 to 70 degrees, but if you plan to throw the plant out after it stops blooming you don’t have to be all that picky.
- Keep the plant away from drafts and heating vents, and never let it touch a cold window pane.
I used to photograph weddings – – – way back when, when people still used film in their cameras. One of the events that stands out in my memory was a Christmas wedding. The platform where the minister and the wedding party stood was engulfed in a sea of bright red Poinsettias. A few white Poinsettias were here and there to add interest. So simple, and yet, so dramatic.
It seems a shame to dispose of something this glorious, and some adventurous gardeners try to get it to bloom again next year. Actually, they can be rebloomed for decades. And if having something that your next door neighbor probably doesn’t interests you, this just might be your project!
GROW POINSETTIAS: THE TIMELINE
January through March:
- Keep the plant in a window providing bright, indirect light as long as it’s blooming.
- Continue to water the Poinsettia whenever you see the soil surface is dry.
- After the blooms fade, the leaves should start to fall off. The plant will enter a resting period (Dormancy) until Summer.
- Decrease the amount of water. Allow the soil to get dry between waterings.
- Don’t allow it to get so dry that the stem starts to shrivel up. That is a sign that it’s dying.
- Move the plant to a cool location (60 degrees) and reduce the amount of light.
- Repot your plant if needed. Use a larger pot if it is root-bound and use a potting soil that drains well.
- By now, the branches should have turned a brownish or muddy green color, and it is time to prune the plant.
- Cut the stems back to about 6 inches tall. (You might want to propagate these cuttings into new plants.) Leave at least one to three leaves on each of the old stems or branches.
- Pruning is a shock to the plant. Don’t give it too much sunlight for a few days. If you do, the remaining leaves will scorch and the plant will be damaged.
- Place the plant in a window in bright, indirect sunlight, and water it well.
- Your plant should be kept at a temperature of 65 to 75 degrees.
- Fertilize every two weeks once you begin to see new growth.
- Water whenever the surface of the soil is dry. Poinsettias love soil that is moist, but well-drained.
- Move the potted plant outdoors to a partially shaded location when temperatures stay above 60 degrees.
- Be sure to have your plant pruned before taking it outside. (Pruning is a shock to any plant, so give it a few days to recover first.)
- Continue the same watering and fertilizing process as before. Increase the watering frequency when the shoots begin to grow.
NOTE: This isn’t necessarily a great idea. If you’ve ever seen a cat climb a Christmas Tree, you can just about guess what is about to happen to your treasured Poinsettia. And more than likely, they will chew on it, even though it is purported to be “mildly poisonous.” A screened-in porch is a better idea, or some other protected location.
- Poinsettia plants tend to grow tall and lanky (long and “leggy” is what I call it.) The plant needs to be “pinched” back periodically to control its height and to promote a fuller plant.
- The first “pinch” (I use pruners purchased from a garden center) should be done when the first shoots are several inches long.
- Simply remove the upper inch or so of growth on each stem, leaving 4 or 5 leaves per stem. They may look pretty sad when you’re done, but it won’t last long. They will leap upward in no time, and grow into a fuller plant with more branches.
- I prefer pruning to pinching since a milky white sap is secreted wherever you cut. Blot as much of it off with a paper towel as you can, then rinse the plant with water.
- Continue pinching new stems and leaving three to four leaves on each branch.
- Pinch the stems back again (if needed), allowing three to four leaves on each branch.
- Bring your Poinsettia back indoors. (Never let a Poinsettia plant remain outdoors when the temperatures drop into the 50’s.)
- Place it in a window with bright, indirect sunlight.
- Continue the same watering and fertilizing routine.
- Keep the temperature at 65 to 75 degrees. Use a thermometer.
- Pinch stems back for the last time this season (if needed).
Poinsettias bloom in response to shorter days. Due to this, you can “control” the bloom time of the plants. If you want your plant to bloom earlier or later than December 25, adjust the initiation of “short days.”
- For about 8 to 10 weeks prior to the desired bloom time, keep your plant in total darkness from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m.
- You can put the plant in a closet to avoid any light seeping in. (Don’t peek!)
- Another option is to cover it with a thick cardboard box or black plastic bag.
- Just remember that it must have at least 12 to 14 hours of total darkness per day. (Sixteen hours per day seems to give the best results.)
- Any sort of exposure to light (even indoor lighting or street lights) can delay or halt the blooming process.
- During the day, place your poinsettia in a window to expose it to at least 6 hours of bright, indirect light.
- Keep temperatures between 60 and 65 degrees. This chilling process of 8 to 10 weeks will “control” when your plant is set to bloom.
- Water sparingly and reduce fertilizer.
- Some people can resolve this issue if they place their plant in a cool basement (use a thermometer) that has windows. They can provide the darkness/temperature requirements, plus expose the Poinsettia to enough light during the day.
Last Week of November:
- Continue the above process until approximately the last week of November.
- Anywhere from Thanksgiving Day to early December you should begin to see flower buds, and bright red color begins to show on the bracts.
- If they haven’t appeared yet, keep watching daily until mid-December.
- At this time, you can stop putting your plant in complete darkness and just keep it in a well-lit window and warmer temperatures.
- Increase its water once you see flower color.
- When buds form in early December, stop the dark treatment.
- About mid-December, you can stop fertilizing your plant till Spring. Continue to water as usual.
- If everything went as planned, your Poinsettia should be back in bloom and you can begin caring for it like you did when you first got it.
- Expose Poinsettias to bright, indirect light for at least 9 hours per day (but not more than 10!) This will help keep your Poinsettia blooming through February, and possibly to May.
- Whenever your plant is almost “bloomed out,” put it under natural and/or artificial light for 24 hours. This tells the plant that it is time to enter Dormancy.
As you can see, these plants are DIVAS. Nevertheless, in spite of the effort involved, the reward is great. Generations of gardeners have put in the time to keep their Poinsettia alive and thriving for wintertime color.
The Poinsettia is a finicky plant to grow. If they get too much heat at the wrong time, they will bloom too soon and miss the Christmas season. Too much heat will also cause them to be too tall and “leggy.” Bushy, compact plants are what you are aiming for.
One reason why many people fail at growing and reblooming their Poinsettia is because they don’t have a clue what variety they bought. In the supermarket or at the mall, when you inquire about the variety you will probably get a blank stare, a shoulder shrug, and a, “It’s RED, Maam!”
Some greenhouses seem reluctant to tell you the name of the variety they grow for fear you will take your plant, propagate, and sell it. They have enough trouble growing these plants themselves, they just don’t want the competition. I visited a greenhouse years ago that was propagating an enormous room filled with red Poinsettias. It was a very expensive procedure, and took a lot of temperature and light control.
Some varieties of Poinsettias need different amounts of Darkness Time depending on how quickly they bloom in the season:
- Very Early Bloomers need 6 1/2 to 7 weeks of darkness.
- Early Bloomers need 7 1/2 to 8 weeks of darkness.
- Midseason Bloomers need 9 weeks of darkness.
- Late Bloomers need 10 weeks of darkness.
If you don’t know the variety you bought, it’s a guessing game. In that situation, I would just choose 8 weeks, and alter the timing next year if it didn’t seem like enough.
For full color before December 25, short days (Darkness Time) needs to start in early October. If you want your Poinsettia to bloom earlier or later, adjust the initiation of short days.
A few HELPFUL HINTS for your Poinsettia-growing success are:
- Always water your Poinsettia with lukewarm water – – – not water out of the refrigerator.
- Water when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Always allow the plant to get completely dry between waterings.
- If underwatered, the plant will wilt and shed leaves. Overwatering causes the roots to die.
- Use a humidifier to add moisture into the air OR place the plant on a tray filled with pebbles and water.
- Mist the plant daily. Remember that these are tropical plants!
- No fertilizer is needed while in bloom.
- After the blooming period is finished, feed your Poinsettia every 2 weeks with a liquid houseplant fertilizer.
Poinsettias are from Mexico and parts of Central America where entire hillsides can be covered in red blooms. Some are as tall as 16 feet. They love sunlight, but don’t overdo it! If you sit them in direct sun, they will bake. And this will fade the leaves.
- East facing windows are best since it supplies bright, indirect light. Poinsettias love the morning light and afternoon shade.
- Make sure the plant does not touch the window pane. This could scorch them during warm weather and freeze them in winter.
- Avoid cold drafts which will cause leaves to wilt and drop. Make sure it doesn’t sit anywhere near a door that is frequently fanning open and closed during cold weather.
- Keep your Poinsettia as far as possible from heat sources (vents, etc.)
- Poinsettias respond well to lowering the thermostat somewhat at night. Your plant will be happiest in temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees.
- They will lose leaves if they are exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees. To be on the safe side, always keep a thermometer next to your plant. Anything below 55 degrees, and you need to start worrying.
- If you keep your plant outdoors in Summer, be prepared to bring it inside the house when necessary. Anything above 80 degree temperatures, and the plant will lose its leaves.
HAPPY PLANTING! Susan