Festive poinsettia brings holiday cheer.
image by mensatic:morguefile
If you love the festive look of bright red poinsettias on the table for the Christmas holidays, you are not alone. According to the University of Illinois Extension, 74 percent of Americans prefer the red poinsettia to the white or pink, and spend $220 million on poinsettias during the holiday season. These cheery plants are native to Peru where they grow to heights of 10 feet or higher. Although, they probably will not achieve heights of that scale in your home, poinsettias can be grown year round as houseplants.
Place poinsettia plants in a draft free area that receives medium to bright light, but avoid direct sunlight. Exposure to either cold drafts or heat sources may cause poinsettias to drop leaves. Daytime temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures between 55 and 60 F are ideal.
Water thoroughly when soil feels dry to the touch and allow water to drain through the bottom of the pot. Do not allow poinsettias to sit in standing water as this encourages root rot.
Apply half-strength water-soluble fertilizer six to eight weeks after holiday blooming. Repeat application in another six to eight weeks to promote healthy green foliage.
Cut the plant back to 6 to 8 inches in late spring when leaves have lost their luster and rich green color. Within a few weeks, lush new growth appears and creates a compact plant. Apply half-strength fertilizer every three to four weeks from spring until fall.
Repot to a large plant pot in midsummer once the plant resumes vigorous growth. Choose a pot with adequate drainage that is 2 to 4 inches larger than the original pot. Add organic matter, like peat moss or compost, to all-purpose potting soil to provide aeration.
Force blooms for the holidays by placing in complete darkness for 14 hours a day beginning in late September or early October. A dark closet or unused room that receives no outside light is ideal. Beware of light emitted from streetlights or nightlights because they are enough to prevent poinsettias from blooming on schedule.
Cover with a cardboard box or black plastic to block light if necessary. Move to light during the day. Resume normal care once bracts have turned red and the plant is in holiday bloom.