In the Garden:
Middle South
December, 2001
Regional Report

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The bracts of a bicolored 'Monet' poinsettia will continue to develop size and color provided the plant basks in good light for six hours a day.

Pretty Poinsettias

Like other holiday guests, the poinsettias you invite into your home this season will revel in Christmas cheer if you provide them in good care. These tropical plants are easy to please, and will often keep their good looks for many weeks, sometimes well into February.

The Right Light

I like to buy plants that are just approaching full bloom so that they will retain their beauty after other Christmas decorations are stashed away. However, immature plants do need more light than those with fully opened yellow flower clusters (cyathias). If the bracts (the poinsettia version of petals) are to continue to develop good color, the plants need six hours a day of strong indirect light. The place should be bright enough for you to read fine print, or to observe a strong shadow cast by your hand. A south or west-facing window is often an ideal spot.

Food and Water

Poinsettia bracts look best when framed by lush green leaves, so I do everything I can to delay the yellowing of the foliage. I keep the soil moist by dribbling in filtered room-temperature water every three to four days, and mix a houseplant fertilizer into the water once a week. Any all-purpose fertilizer will do, but my poinsettias seem to respond especially well to African violet food, which contains lots of phosphorous along with nitrogen and potassium.

Take care that the base of your plant does not sit in water -- a common cause of premature decline. I like to put a plate filled with white aquarium gravel beneath each plant so that excess water can drain away freely. If your plant's pot is wrapped in foil, slip a broad rubber band over the foil near the base of the pot, and then use sharp scissors to remove the foil from the bottom of the container.


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