Poinsettias will stay bright and colorful for weeks or even months

December 12, 2012

It is the holidays and time for eating and, of course, over eating.  Sadly, you may even succumb to Montezuma’s Revenge, a severe intestinal infection named for sickness often endured by non-natives in Mexico.

However, Montezuma plays a happier role in modern festivities.  Montezuma, the last of the Aztec kings, brought poinsettias into what now is Mexico City by caravans because poinsettias do not grow in the city’s high altitude.
Poinsettias are named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the American ambassador to Mexico who brought it here in 1828.

When buying a poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) look for dark green leaves and bright colored flowers.  The flowers are actually colored leaves, called bracts.

Poinsettias will stay bright and colorful for weeks or even months.

If the weather is cold, be sure to completely wrap up your poinsettias for the trip from the store to the car. Even a quick exposure to cold and wind will harm poinsettia plants.

Once you get them home, place them in a sunny room away from drafts and heating vents.  They do best with a room temperature range between 60 and 70 degrees.

Keep your plants well watered, but let the soil dry out a bit between watering.

In true Christmas spirit, poinsettias are very forgiving. If they wilt or dry out, soak the entire pot in the sink and they will bounce right back. Poinsettias keep their blooms long after Christmas, with luck lasting until Valentine's Day.

The bright colored parts of poinsettias that we think of as the flowers are actually colored bracts (modified leaves). The true flowers are tiny yellow flowers in the center of the colorful bracts. Because poinsettias drop their leaves quickly after those flowers shed their pollen, choose plants with little or no yellow pollen showing.

In addition to the familiar red, poinsettias now come in white, pink, and even striped versions.

For the ultimate gift that keeps on giving, you can get your poinsettias to rebloom next year.  In late March or early April prune the poinsettia back to around eight inches in height. Continue to water regularly and fertilize with a liquid organic fertilizer at half strength.

Move your plants outdoors in the spring after all danger of frost has passed and average overnight temperature stay above 55°F (13°C).

In late June or early July, pinch back your poinsettias to keep them thick and compact. If you decide to repot them, in early June transplant your poinsettias using potting soil with added peat moss or other organic material.

Bring your plants back indoors before the temperatures get too cold, as they cannot stand even a light frost.

To get your plants to re-bloom they will need a period of total darkness. Starting in late September to early October put your poinsettia plants in total darkness for 12 to 14 hours a day. Even a small amount of light can throw of the procedure. Some gardeners simply pop the plants into a dark closet, bringing the plants out daily for bright sunlight. You may find that a black plastic bag works well. Place your poinsettias in the bag and tie it shut with a twist tie. Every morning, open the bag and gently lower the bag to the floor.

Keep this process of total darkness followed by regular sunlight daily until early November.  Now you can bring your poinsettias out for display. A study by Ohio State University shows that despite rumors to the contrary, poinsettias are not poisonous. So if you, a child or a pet gets sick during the holidays, it probably isn’t from the poinsettias, but rather that the poinsettias’ famous benefactor Montezuma has truly had his revenge.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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