In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
National Poinsettia Day is December 12, which marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsetts, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, who introduced poinsettias into cultivation in the U.S. in 1825.
If you're looking for drama in plants, look no further than the poinsettia. For sheer star power, consider this: How many other flowers have their own day by order of Congress?
Classic and Quirky
Red poinsettias set the standard for bold color and holiday cheer, and they dominate sales. But the many shades of red are joined by an array of other solid colors and patterns. The colorful "leaves" are actually called bracts, because they are modified leaves that change color and surround the true flowers. The bracts are the reason we love poinsettias, so look at them carefully when selecting plants. If they are torn or bruised, wilted, or few in number, keep looking. A traditionally shaped poinsettia's bracts will be the widest part of the plant, and there will be green leaves all the way down the stem to the soil level in the pot. Also look for plants with their yellow true flowers still closed up tight.
Long Life Indoors
Place the plants out of direct sunlight at home to prolong their strong coloration. Ideally, the temperature in the room should be between 65 and 70 degrees F. all the time. Avoid rapid changes in temperature and humidity by keeping plants away from heater vents, doors to the outside that are frequently opened, and fireplaces. The top of the DVD player, TV, or computer is no good, either.
Give the poinsettias bright, indirect sunlight, and water only when the soil surface feels dry. Be sure to remove the pot from any festive wrapping to water it, so the water can drain out and not be re-absorbed through the drainage hole. This is important when watering all container plants, but poinsettias are especially vulnerable.
In the Garden
Once the colors have faded on the poinsettia, you can snip off the bracts and grow it as a container plant, or set it in the garden in many parts of our region. Provide good drainage, a half day of sunlight, and once-a-month fertilizing. In nature, the short days of early winter trigger the poinsettias to bloom and produce colorful bracts in late December. So, you can expect your outdoor plants to color up again by January.
You'll have to mimic fall's shortening days to bring an indoor plant into bloom. Place it in a light-free spot, such as a dark closet, for 14 hours each night, beginning about October 1, for 8-10 weeks until its bract begin to color. Or you can do like most people and simply buy a new poinsettia each year.
The most impressive display anywhere may be right in our region. On the day after Thanksgiving, the "elves" at DisneyWorld in Orlando exchange all the mums for poinsettias. Thousands of them brightly welcome the visitors and amaze the gardeners in the crowd!
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