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Keeping poinsettias pretty, longer

  We have arrived at that time of the year when the gourds and calico corn centerpieces that decorated homes for the autumn season are exchanged for the bright colors of the Christmas season.

One of the most colorful plants brought into homes this time of the year is the poinsettia. Careful selection and care will insure an attractive poinsettia throughout the holiday season.

The poinsettia has long been our most popular Christmas flower. Today's poinsettias come in many colors including white, cream, pink, dusty rose, plum, variegated white and pink or white and red, even yellow and then the ever popular red.

Hybridizers have developed cultivars that range from miniatures that can be tucked in a small nook or on a table to the regal plants with 12-inch flowers that make a very dramatic statement in the home.

The new longer-lasting cultivars may be kept for weeks and it is not unusual to have poinsettias blooming in March or April. Individuals may actually grow tired of their poinsettia long before it becomes unsightly.

When purchasing a poinsettia plant, select plants with dark green foliage that extends down to the pot and is free of yellow or wilted leaves.

Check the undersides of the leaves for insects, particularly whiteflies and aphids. There should be little or no pollen showing on the yellow, button-like true flowers located in the center of the colorful bracts. The presence of pollen indicates that the plant has been blooming for awhile and the bracts are likely to age and lose their beauty.

Avoid plants with wet soil and wilted leaves as this combination indicates the presence of root rot.

Before taking the poinsettia outside, carefully wrap it to prevent exposure to cold temperatures. Exposure to freezing temperatures, even for a brief moment, may cause the leaves to blacken and drop.

To keep your poinsettia healthy and attractive, place it in a bright, sunny spot where it receives at least six hours of daylight. Keep it out of drafts, both drafts from opening doors and dry warm drafts from heat ducts or appliances.  Drafts from heat ducts are one of the major causes of deterioration in poinsettias.

The room temperatures should not exceed 70 degrees during the day or below 60 degrees at night. Unlike many other blooming plants, it is not necessary to move poinsettias to a cool room at night.

Poinsettias do best with evenly moist soil conditions. Both over-watering and under-watering will cause failure in poinsettias.

Too much water will cause the bracts to wither and the leaves to turn yellow and drop, while the leaves of dry plants drop prematurely. Many of the poinsettias are potted in soil-less mixtures and may have more than one plant in a pot and, therefore, dry out rapidly.

Check the potting soil daily and water the plant thoroughly whenever the soil feels dry to the touch by applying water until it seeps through the drainage holes in the pot.

If the poinsettia comes with the pot wrapped in foil, either remove the foil or punch holes in the bottom and place the plant on a saucer to catch the excess water that drains off.

After a few minutes, empty any water that collects in the saucer to prevent root rot. It is not necessary to fertilize the poinsettia the first six weeks after it is brought into the home. After that time, fertilize the plant monthly using a diluted houseplant fertilizer mixed half the label recommendation.

After the holidays, you have three choices as to what to do with your poinsettia plant. You may discard it as soon as it is no longer attractive, enjoy it as a green foliage plant or try to force it into bloom for the next Christmas.

If you are going to try to re-bloom the plant, cut the plant back to about eight inches after the colored bracts have become a muddy green color. By the end of May you will have new lush growth.

Before placing the plant outdoors, repot it into a slightly larger container using fresh potting soil.

When the spring weather is safe for setting out bedding plants, sink the potted poinsettia in a sunny, protected garden spot where it won't be exposed to direct mid-day sun. Be sure to rotate the pot weekly to break off any roots that may be extending through the drainage holes. Water the plants regularly during the growing period and fertilize monthly.

Bring the poinsettia back into the home as soon as night temperatures grow cool. Place it back in a sunny location. Starting in mid-September or early October, keep the plant in total darkness for 13 to 14 hours every night.

You can put it in a dark room or closet, or you can cover it with a black plastic trash bag or a cardboard box. It is important that it be placed where it will be in total darkness every night, without fail.

Move your poinsettia back into sunlight every day, and then keep it dark again at night.  You can leave it out in light once the bracts turn color. It's a challenging procedure, but a lot of satisfaction is gained from re-blooming the plant.

The widespread belief that poinsettias are poisonous is a misconception. Of course, the plant is not intended for human or animal consumption and ingestion should be avoided. It is possible that individuals with very sensitive skin could experience skin irritation if they were to come in contact with the latex-like sap of the plant.

For more information, contact me at 800-450-2465 or Source: Carl Hoffman, Stearns County Extension.