Heralds of the holiday season can thrive all year


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Poinsettia plants will keep their color longer if kept at temperatures around 65 to 75 degrees,

Senior Life Courtesy of Paul Cook, Rockledge Gardens

 

Poinsettias, bright flowery heralds of the holiday season, have a reputation for a short shelf life. Many consumers consider them one-season ornamentals to be later discarded.

Indigenous to Mexico, poinsettias, aka Euphorbia pulcherrima, are small tropical shrubs that were introduced to the United States in 1828 by Joel Roberts Poinsett, ambassador to Mexico and a passionate botanist.

The poinsettia flowers aren’t flowers at all, but rather bracts, or modified leaves designed to attract insects to its tiny yellow flowers in the center of the plants.

While it is true that poinsettias don’t stand much of a chance for a long life in colder climates, they can thrive in Florida.

It’s all in the water.

“Although these traditional beauties aren’t difficult to maintain, watering poinsettia plants can be tricky,” said Paul Cook, green goods buyer at Rockledge Gardens.

“Too much is just as bad as too little.”

The top of the potting soil is the key to determining if the plant needs watering. If the top is moist and cool, leave the plant alone. But, if it feels dry, add water. The pot should not feel light when picked up. If it does, the soil is too dry. Poinsettias don’t like wet feet, so too much water can be deadly.

When purchasing a plant, check the bottom of its pot.

“If the pot doesn’t have at least one drainage hole, it’s critical to poke a hole as soon as possible or the roots may rot fairly quickly,” Cook said.

The decorative foil that often accompanies the plants should be removed since it tends to hold water than can rot the plant.

To water a poinsettia, place the plant  in the kitchen sink and saturate it slowly until water drips through the drainage holes. Leave the pot in the sink to drain, but don’t allow it to stand in water.

The color will remain on the plant the longest if you keep poinsettias at temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Should your plant make it until the next holiday, it still might not bloom in time for Christmas unless you give it a push. Nurseries have an advantage against home gardeners in getting poinsettias to bloom for the holidays because they have the know-how to force the plants to bloom.

The plants crave at least six to eight hours of sun per day, but keep the plants away from heat and air conditioning vents, because poinsettias hate drafts.

Outdoors, the plants can quickly turn into 10-foot giants given the right conditions. Choose a sunny corner protected from wind. The soil should be slightly acidic and with good drainage.

Don’t rush out to plant outdoors immediately after Christmas. Wait until the cold days of January and February have passed to plant them safely in Brevard. It might be best to keep the plants in a pot because for it to rebloom the following year the plant must literally be kept in the dark from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. October through November.

Poinsettias need 14 to 16 hours of complete darkness daily for at least 10 weeks to promote the color change in the bracts. The plant still need some sunlight during the day and watering when the soil is dry to the touch.

During the summer, the plants must also be cut back to about 4 inches in May and pinched an inch in July to discourage spindliness.

Yes, poinsettias can be bloom year after year, but they are needy plants, so be prepared to work for that gorgeous color … or just buy a new poinsettia.