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Caring for your poinsettia
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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 United States ambassador to Mexico, who introduced the plant to the United States 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.

Here 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. A 6-inch pot requires around 12 ounces of water. 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 5 minutes later.

Poinsettias can be re-flowered 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 1 to 2 inches larger in diameter. Use a pot with good drainage and a quality potting soil. Water the soil thoroughly after potting, wait 5 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 2 weeks with a complete water-soluble fertilizer for flowering plants.

When the minimum outdoor temperature is consistently above 60 (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 4-5 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 proved this old wives' tale to be false. The leaves, stems, bracts, and flowers are not toxic to people or pets.

Contact the extension office at (706) 265-2442 about joining our upcoming Master Gardener training course in 2017.