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Caring for a poinsettia

POSTED: December 12, 2012 4:00 a.m.

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a popular flowering plant found in many American homes at Christmas.

The poinsettia is native to southern Mexico and is named after Joel R. Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, who introduced the plant to the U.S. in 1825.

Poinsettias are usually red, but are also available in white, pink, peach and a variety of other colors.

The brightly colored "flowers" of the plant are called bracts, which are actually modified leaves. The real flowers are the tiny yellow blooms at the center of the bracts.

Following are some pointers to keep your Poinsettias looking great through the Christmas season and beyond.

Place your poinsettia near a sunny window where it will have the most available sunlight.

A window that faces south, east or west is better than one facing north.

Do not let any part of the plant touch a cold windowpane because this may injure it.

To keep the plant in bloom, maintain it at a temperature of 65 to 70 degrees during the day and, if possible, move it to a cooler place at night.

Avoid exposing the plant to hot or cold drafts.

Examine the soil daily, and when the surface is dry to the touch, water the soil until it runs freely out the drainage hole in the container.

The amount of water recommended below ensures that enough water will be applied so that some will run out the drainage hole. If a saucer is used, discard the water that collects in it.

If the plant gets too dry and wilting occurs, immediately water with the recommended amount and then water again five minutes later.

• 4 inch pot - 6 oz. water

• 6 inch pot - 12 oz. water

• 8 inch pot - 20 oz. water

Poinsettias can be reflowered the following Christmas if a yearlong schedule of care is observed. Continue normal watering until the first of April; then allow it to dry gradually.

Following the drying period, store the plant in a cool (60 degrees), airy place with indirect light.

In mid-May, cut the stems back to about 4 inches above the soil. Then replant in a pot one to 2 inches larger in diameter. Use a pot with good drainage and a quality potting soil.

Water the soil thoroughly after potting, wait five minutes and water again.

Put the plant near a sunny window. Keep it at 65 to 70 degrees and water when the surface of the soil is dry to the touch.

After new growth appears, fertilize every two weeks with a complete water-soluble fertilizer for flowering plants.

When the minimum outdoor temperature is consistently above 60 degrees (usually early June), leave the plant in the pot, move it outdoors and place it in a lightly shaded location.

Continue to water and fertilize.

Pinch each stem by removing 1 inch of terminal growth and leaving four to five leaves per stem.

Pinch again in mid-July.

At the beginning of August, bring the plant indoors and again place it near a window with a sunny exposure.

Keep it at 65 to 70 degrees at night and continue watering and fertilizing.

To have the plant in full flower before Christmas, keep it in complete darkness (such as a closet) between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. beginning in early September and near a sunny window in the daytime.

When color is visible, it is not necessary to keep the poinsettia in complete darkness during the night.

Continue fertilizing the plant until mid-December.

Poinsettias have been accused of being toxic; however, research has proven this old wives' tale to be false. The leaves, stems, bracts and flowers are not toxic to people or pets.

This article was made possible by the Georgia Mountains Master Gardeners.

Clark MacAllister is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706) 265-2442.

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