In Mexico and Central America, where the poinsettia plant is indigenous, the mountainsides blaze with bright color, often reaching 16 feet in height. The first missionaries in these areas were so enchanted by the poinsettia; they incorporated the plants into their Advent ceremonies leading up to the celebration of Christmas. Today, in America, poinsettias are light years ahead of other indoor flowering potted plants in sales, including spring-flowering bulbs such as Easter lilies and roses. Following the holidays, many poinsettias are discarded, but with proper care, you can continue to enjoy the plants year-round.
Look for plants that have lush, dense foliage that’s dark green. The yellow, central buds are actually the poinsettia flowers, so if they have already begun to drop off, the plant is old, so avoid taking it home. Check the smallest leaves that surround the center buds, ensuring they are fully colored and be sure to check them for insects or diseases. To avoid damage from cold wind and temperatures, ask the store to bag the plant.
Give your plant at least six hours of indirect sunlight each day. Poinsettias prefer temperatures between 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, but a drop in temperature at night, between 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit, keeps the plant’s color vibrant. Avoid placing the plant in the path of hot or cold drafts from outside entrances, heating vents or appliances. Keep the plant’s soil moist but not wet. When the soil feels dry, remove any decorative foils, add room temperature water and let the plant drain onto a plate.
A sure way to bring your poinsettia to certain, wilting death is to overwater or let it sit in water. Always drain thoroughly before covering the pot’s drainage hole. If you plan to keep your plant throughout the year, it’s important to repot it to avoid the roots becoming bound and unable to grow. When choosing a new pot, use one that is two inches wider and an inch or two deeper than the original container. With room to spread out, foliage growth is stimulated and blooming encouraged.
The risk of poisoning a pet is low, but pesticides used at the garden center may be present on the leaves. The poinsettia’s milky sap contains a low-toxicity chemical that can cause furry friends to experience diarrhea, vomiting or drooling as well as itchy skin. If your pet ingests any stems or leaves, gently rinse their mouth with water. A soap and water wash can relieve the skin irritation discomfort.
Get snippy with your plant in the spring. In May, foster a full, more lush poinsettia in the winter by pruning 4 inches from each stem and begin fertilizing. In June, treat your plant to some moderate outdoor sunshine in the morning and partial shade in the afternoon. Poinsettias do very well on the patio or under a shaded tree. As new branches develop, pinch off the stems, an inch at a time. Use full-strength fertilizer once a month, always when the soil is moist to prevent root burns. Be on the lookout for aphids and whiteflies that gather on the underside of the leaves. Make your own insecticide with one teaspoon of dishwashing liquid in one gallon of water and leave a spray bottle next to your plants for easy application.
As temperatures dip below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, bring the poinsettias inside to cultivate that rich, red bloom. At the beginning of October, your poinsettia requires 12 to 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness. Any light, even from a hallway, can delay flowering. If you live in a temperate climate and your plant resides in the garden, cover it with a cardboard box from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m., then move the plant to a sunny space during the day.
If you live in a warm landscaping zone, from 9 to 11, poinsettias can live outdoors and are a striking addition to a garden. Pick a sunny spot with good drainage and amend the soil with organic matter. Although poinsettias prefer sunlight, some shade is tolerated although branches grow longer.
If your poinsettia begins to fade before the huge holiday gathering, it’s easy to preserve it and add it to a floral arrangement with ivy or holly sprigs. Simply trim off the stems that are below the colorful leaves then, to remove the white sap, dip the cut ends into boiling water for 20 seconds, followed immediately by an ice water bath. Those beautifully vibrant leaves stay healthy and colorful for up to a week.
In 2002, Congress created National Poinsettia Day to honor the founder of the American poinsettia industry, Paul Ecke. Each December 12, this holiday commemorates the death of the Mexican Ambassador who introduced the poinsettia to America, Joel Roberts Poinsett.
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