NOCHE BUENA: Poinsettia Selection and Care - Valley Morning Star : Master Gardeners

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NOCHE BUENA: Poinsettia Selection and Care

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Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2018 1:58 pm

The poinsettia is probably the most familiar of all Christmas potted plants. The Aztecs were the first to use this plant they called ’Cuectlaxochitl’ for dyes, medication and in festivals.

In the seventeenth century, a group of Franciscan priests utilized the flower during Christmas festivals due to its bright colors and Christmas bloom; however, it was not until 1825 that Dr. Joel Poinsett, the first American Ambassador to Mexico, found the poinsettia during a Christmas time visit to Taxco where it was growing and blooming on the hillsides surrounding the city.

Poinsett, a botanist of great ability, had a few plants shipped to his home in South Carolina. Since its introduction to the U.S. it has spread throughout the world and carries the name of Poinsettia in honor of Dr. Poinsett.

The predominant color of the present-day Poinsettia is red, just as it was when it was first discovered in Mexico, yet cultivars may be found in white, pink, and several other combinations. The striking colors, the ease with which the poinsettia can be grown, and the long lasting color display make these plants very popular during the holiday season.

To keep your potted poinsettia looking its best, there are a few things you should do.

Damage protection. Keep your plant away from animals, small children, or heavily used traffic areas as they are easily damaged.

Light. Give your plants some natural light, the more the better. Direct sunlight is not advisable as too much direct sunlight through a window can burn the leaves so just a bright sunny room is best.

Temperature. Keep your plant away from hot or drying things like televisions, heaters, stoves, fireplaces and air conditioning vents. Poinsettias keep their bright colors longer if they are kept at 60 to 72 degrees F. Putting your plant outside at night, protected from breezes, frost and wind, is an excellent practice.

Water. Water your plants only when the soil is dry to the touch. Be careful not to let your plant stand in water after watering, even for as little as one hour, as this will cause the leaves to turn yellow and drop off.

Once the holiday season has ended, you can keep it in a pot outside or plant it in your yard. Choose a spot in the yard where drainage is good and there is some protection from cold. Pick an area where there are no nighttime lights, such as streetlights, porch lights or lights through a window.

(Poinsettia blooms are triggered by long hours of darkness, so any interruption in the dark will keep the plant from blooming. Five weeks of 12-hours of total darkness at night is so critical that some people actually put their pots in a close for the duration.)

Place the pot or plant the poinsettia as you would any shrub, and then in the spring (around April) and again in August cut the plant back to one-half its height. Remember do not prune after August or poinsettias will not flower in time for Christmas. Fertilize your Poinsettia with a balanced fertilizer like rose food with a systemic insecticide to fight against aphids and whitefly. In the fall add some superphosphate to stimulate flowering.

Cutting Poinsettia blossoms. You can have cut Poinsettia flowers in your house from plants in your yard if you follow this procedure: A day or two prior to actually cutting the blossom, strip off all the foliage from the stems you want to cut.

When you are ready to cut your blossom, take a bucket containing an inch or two of rubbing alcohol or boiling water. Immediately after cutting, place the cut side of the stem in the liquid for several minutes to seal the stem. This keeps the milky sap in the plant. Doing this, keeps the flower looking fresh and bright for several days. If your flowers start to wilt, submerge the stem and flower in lukewarm water overnight. A bathtub works best for this. If you should happen to break off a flower-leaf, seal the area with a flame, using a candle or a match.

(Information source: Written by the Cameron County Horticultural Education Committee, Cameron County Extension and edited by Lori Murray, Cameron County Master Gardener

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