Poinsettia

Pollinators such as bees and butterflies are attracted to the tiny yellow flowers, called cyathia, on poinsettia plants.

DEAR AMOR: We just read your article about Geraniums and our thoughts JUMPED to Poinsettias. We recognize it may be too late but better late than never. We see people that are struck by the awesome beauty of this plant and in an effort to preserve it, they kill it with water. You might save a few yet this season but certainly many the next year. You could cause growers to put a huge RED WARNING on their plants “to read this first”. – WIL & JAN

DEAR WIL & JAN: Poinsettias, also known as a Christmas star, are indeed beautiful. It used to be that poinsettias sold in stores only came in red. Although red remains a favorite color, poinsettias now are being offered in many other cultivars of pink, white, yellow, blue, orange, purple, salmon, and multi-colored plants.

The yellow flower in the middle that looks like ball-head pins is the poinsettia’s actual flower. They are beautiful when they are bushy and full of red bracts. For that reason, they are manipulated to branch out by controlling the height. Those brightly colored bracts attract pollinators like butterflies, bees, and other insects to the tiny yellow flowers in the middle, known as cyathia.

I have played around with poinsettias myself, creating 4- to 5-foot standard trees from Christmas decorations that would otherwise be tossed away. I was quite successful with them actually, and happy with my work. My hands-on experimentation with them allowed me to see its strengths and weaknesses. Being a sappy plant and young as they are, its branches could snap easily if not supported and tied. Outdoors, it should be placed in a protected location.

Most often, the poinsettia is just like a cut flower to many people, tossed away when its beauty fades and its leaves shed away. That is actually a wise choice, unless we want to be adventurous.

Caring for a poinsettia comes with a cost but is very rewarding when we have the time and determination to do so. Forcing them to turn bright red exactly for Christmas takes dedication. Overall, we did not really fail that much. Hey, it’s a nice good-looking green tree!

Remember to keep it away from cold drafts. Do not underwater or overwater. A thirsty poinsettia will drop its leaves prematurely. Too much water will also cause its leaves to turn yellow and die away. Root rots also develop when the plants is sitting in water for a long time. It is necessary to discard its pot wrapper to drain out excess water.

The following creative reminder for bushy poinsettia care is from Dr. Leonard Perry, a professor from the University of Vermont.

New Year’s Day: Fertilize with an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer at recommended rates. Continue to provide adequate light and water for prolonged bloom for several weeks.

Valentine’s Day: Check your plant for signs of insects such as white fly. If your plant has become long and leggy, cut back to about five inches tall.

St. Patrick’s Day: Remove faded and dried parts of the plant. Add more soil, preferably a commercially available sterile soil mix. Keep the plant in a very bright interior location.

Memorial Day: Trim off two to three inches of branches to promote side branching. Repot to a larger container using a sterile growing mix.

Father’s Day: Move the plant outside for the summer; place in indirect light.

Fourth of July: Trim the plant again. Move it into full sun. Continue to water and fertilize but increase the amount to accelerate growth.

Labor Day: Move indoors to a spot that gets at least six hours of direct light daily, preferably more. As new growth begins, reduce the amount of fertilizer.

Autumnal Equinox: Starting on or near Sept. 21, give the plant 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness (put the plant in a closet, basement, or under a box) and 11 hours of bright light each day. Maintain night temperatures in the low 60-degree F. range. Continue to water and fertilize. Rotate the plant daily to give all sides even light.

Thanksgiving: Discontinue the short day/long night treatment. Put the plant in a sunny area that gets at least six hours of direct light. Reduce water and fertilizer.

Christmas: Enjoy your “new” poinsettia. Start the cycle all over again.

Amor Chamness of Howe is an intern in the Purdue Extension Master Gardener program. She answers questions about gardening each week in “Dear Amor.” Send your gardening questions to her at dearamor@yahoo.com.

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