With care, this year’s poinsettia can bring joy next year too
The poinsettia is one of the flowers most naturally associated with the holiday season here in the United States, but its native home is in Mexico, where it grows in the wild.
Originally called “Cuetlaxochiti” by the Aztecs, the plant’s colorful bracts were used to make a vivid red dye and its sap was used medicinally to treat fevers. An American ambassador to Mexico in the 1820s, John Poinsett brought the plants back to the United States, where they were grown and developed by nurserymen and horticulturalists into the glorious beauties they are today.
|The bright blooms of the poinsettia are actually made up of colored
"bracts", which are the modified leaves of the plant.
The bright blooms of the poinsettia are actually made up of colored “bracts,” which are the modified leaves of the plant. In the center of each “bloom” are the actual flowers, which can be seen as small, yellow clusters. These clusters bear the pollen of the plant, which is necessary for reproduction. While the poinsettias were originally only red in hue in the wild, they have been developed to produce more than 100 very colorful varieties today.
Poinsettias can now be found in red, pink, salmon, yellow, white, lavender and a myriad of multi-colors. They also come in a number of unique bracts forms such as curled, thin forms, short and long types.
One of the most frequent questions asked by poinsettia owners is how to keep the plant re-blooming after its first season. With proper care, your poinsettia can provide color and life in your home through the winter months and it can re-flower for the yuletide season next December.
There are some essentials for keeping your poinsettia healthy. Proper light, humidity and temperature are important to a healthy plant. Poinsettias need at least six hours of light each day. Place your plant near a sunny window or under fluorescent lights to make sure it gets at least six hours each day. Along with a bright location, keep the plant out of cold or hot drafts. Drafts will cause the plant’s leaves to drop. Be sure that your poinsettia is in an area that is kept at 60 to 70 degrees on a regular basis. Poinsettias also need humidity and you can provide for this with a humidifier or set the plant on a tray of moist gravel. Keep the gravel moist.
Over-watering and under-watering are harmful for a poinsettia. If the plant is allowed to dry out excessively, it will wilt and lose its lower leaves. Over-watering can kill the plant’s roots and will also cause the lower leaves to drop. To water properly, wait until the upper inch of soil in the pot feels dry, then water thoroughly. Make sure the pot has drainage holes to drain off the excess moisture. Along with proper watering, apply a soluble fertilizer once a month.
Your poinsettia should retain its color until spring when its bracts will begin to fade. Now it is time to cut back the stems to about 6 to 8 inches. Continue to keep the plant in a sunny location and water and fertilize as before. In late spring, you can move your poinsettia outdoors to a sheltered location. It can be kept in its pot (repot if it has outgrown its original container) and sunk into the soil for the summer. This will help protect it from storm and root damage. Keep it well watered and fertilized as needed.
In the fall, bring your poinsettia back inside before frost or cold temperatures. Once again, keep it in a sunny location at temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees. At the end of September, it is time to begin preparing your poinsettia to be in blooming condition for Christmas. Poinsettias develop color in their bracts in response to short days and long nights.
From 5 to 8 a.m. each day, keep your plant in complete darkness. In mid-December, color should begin to show. Once it does, move the poinsettia into bright light again for at least six hours a day. By Christmas, it will be ready to brighten your home once again with color.
Best wishes for a wonderful and colorful holiday season.