In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
December, 2011
Regional Report

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Holiday plants like the poinsettia can be kept and grown for years to come.

Keep Your Poinsettia Beyond the Holidays

Poinsettias are everywhere at this time of year! These red and green symbols of Christmas help us get into t the holiday spirit. A central American native that was harvested by the Aztecs for its red dye, the poinsettia was brought to the United States in the 1820s by the US ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, for whom the plant is named. I'm on a quest for American-made products, and darn, it can be hard. It's surprising to find out how many items are made out of our own country. At least most poinsettias are grown in the USA.

Thanks to the Ecke family from Encinitas, California, these winter-flowering shrubs of Mexico are now a part of American's holiday traditions. Commercial breeders and growers have improved the poinsettia's longevity of bloom so that they hold their colorful bracts (the modified leaves we call blooms) well into the spring.

I am a saver when it comes to plants, and poinsettias are among the flowering plants I've carried over from year to year. The secret to keeping them through and beyond the season is to provide them the right growing conditions. They do best in a sunny window with an indoor temperature of 60 to 70 degrees. Conditions that are too hot will shorten the life of the colorful bracts. Avoid temperature fluctuations and areas where there are warm or cold drafts.

You don't need to fertilize the poinsettia when the plant is in bloom. It has already been provided with sufficient nutrients by the grower prior to sale. One of the biggest mistakes we can make with poinsettias is overwatering. They are really prone to root rot if the pot sits in saucerful of water or if water is caught by the colorful foil pot wrap and doesn't drain. So if you leave the decorative wrapping on the pot, be sure to punch some holes through it so water can drain out. Allow the soil to dry out slightly between waterings to avoid the overwatering scenario.

When the bracts begin to fade, I prune the plant back to about 7 to 8 inches tall. If needed, I'll transplant into a larger pot. I continue to prune and pinch the plant through July 1 to shape and train it. I also feed plants about once a month with a balanced 10-10-10-plant food.

My poinsettias don't stay indoors during the summer months. They get to go outdoors under the canopy of a shade tree around the first of June or when the danger of frost has passed. Then, in mid-September, the plants are cleaned and brought indoors.

To get a poinsettia to reflower you have to keep it in total darkness between 5 pm and 8 am. Start this around October 1st and continue until color shows on the bracts, usually around early to mid-December. Any little exposure to light can prevent flowering. Covering the plant with a lightproof bag or box, or placing it in a closet generally works. Nighttime temperatures above 70-75 degrees F can prevent flowering.

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