In the Garden:
Traditional poinsettias are red, but hybrids can be white or even have speckled bracts. If you find plants with pink, blue or lavender bracts, they are white poinsettias sprayed with water-based floral paint to create those designer colors.
'Tis the Season for Poinsettias
You know it's getting close to the holidays when poinsettias start showing up in garden centers and grocery stores. I love having them in my home but buying the best plants can be daunting. They're available in over 20 varieties, in dozens of sizes and shapes.
To get the best poinsettias, select plants with thoroughly colored and expanded bracts. The red, white, pink and speckled "flowers" on poinsettias are actually modified leaves, called bracts. The real flowers are the tiny yellow things in the middle of the bracts.
How to Choose the Best
Begin your search by looking for bracts with no blemishes and dense foliage all the way down the stem. I look for plants that are about two and one-half times the height of the pot with strong, stiff stems and green, healthy lower leaves.
Get to the Bottom of Things
Once you've chosen the very best looking plants, carefully slip off the pot and look for white and light tan colored roots that have grown all the way to the sides of the pot. Brown roots, or few roots, can be a bad sign. The act of publicly unpotting a plant makes me feel a little bit daring, but it's worth the effort. A poinsettia without a good root system won't last very long.
I've found that poinsettias will last about three weeks indoors, even in the darkest corners where no other plant life will survive. This makes them perfect for decorating a room to my own taste rather than having to place them under optimal growing conditions. If you place yours in a dark area, water only when the soil is very dry, but before the leaves begin to wilt.
After the holiday cleanup, poinsettias should be placed in a brightly lit area so they can remain healthy. South, east or west windows are best. The bracts may open completely and then fall off, but this is normal. If your plants last until spring, you've placed them in the right growing sites and they will continue to grow well. Water regularly -- as often as necessary to keep the soil from drying out.
Cut your poinsettias back in early April, leaving four to six nodes or segments on each stem. Begin fertilizing with a diluted liquid houseplant fertilizer when new growth begins. As the weather warms in late spring, take your poinsettias outdoors to spend the summer in a sunny spot. Trim new growth back in July and again in mid-August to encourage a bushy appearance.
Conditioning for Rebloom
When the weather begins to cool in the fall, bring your poinsettias back indoors and place them near a sunny windowsill. It takes about 10 weeks of special treatment to coax poinsettias into bloom for the holidays. Beginning in late-September, provide 14 hours of total darkness and 10 hours of bright light every 24 hours. I put mine in a closet every evening at 6 and take them out every morning at 8, placing them in a west-facing window during the day. This process is repeated until the first week of December. If all goes well, they should be radiant with color by Christmas!
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