EAST TEXAS - At a recent Christmas party I attended, Poinsettias decorated the tables and were given away as door prizes at the end.
At my church, you can purchase a Poinsettia to adorn the sanctuary “in honor of” or “in memory of” someone special. Their name will appear in the bulletin and you are free to take your dedicated Poinsettia home on the Sunday before Christmas.
Not too surprisingly, the Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is the most popular flowering plant sold in the United States with more than 70 million sold nationwide each year. When South Carolinian Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, introduced the poinsettia to the United States in 1825, it’s doubtful he had any idea how popular this plant would become.
When appreciating the Poinsettia, several folks incorrectly assume they are buying a plant with red flowers. Not true. Poinsettias have red “bracts”. A bract is a modified or specialized leaf. They will produce flowers, but nobody buys Poinsettias for their flowers. If you look closely, you’ll see the small, often yellow, flowers in the middle of the plant.
Today you have several more options other than ones with red bracts. Plant breeders have produced cultivars with many other colors besides the traditional red. Plants are available with white, pink, peach, yellow, marbled and speckled bracts.
I bet you didn’t know that just up the road from us in New Summerfield is one of the largest Poinsettia nurseries in the country! Altman Plants nursery in Cherokee County ships about 24 semi- truck loads out of their location every day of the holiday season. They operate a big business with tight margins as growers carefully monitor light and moisture while keeping pests at bay.
In your own home, follow the tips below to ensure your poinsettia will make it through the holidays. First, set your poinsettia in a bright location but out of direct sunlight so that it receives at least 6 hours of bright, indirect sunlight each day. Putting it in direct sunlight may fade the color of the bracts.
Next, keep it away from the fireplace or other direct heat source as excess heat will cause the leaves to yellow and fall off, and the flower bracts to fade early. Do not put your poinsettia near drafts, excessive heat or dry air from appliances, fireplaces or vents.
Finally, avoid over watering them. While poinsettias require moderately moist soil, too many folks frequently over-water them. When watering, growers recommend taking the plant out of its decorative plastic pot cover. Water until water seeps out of the drainage hole and the soil is completely saturated.
Water them thoroughly only when the soil surface feels dry to the touch. Never let the potting mixture completely dry out and, again, never let the plant sit in standing water.
You can enjoy the plant for the rest of the year with moderate attention. Around March to April, when the colorful bracts fade, prune the plant back to about 8 inches in height. Although the plant will look bare after pruning, eventually new growth will emerge from the nodes up and down the stem.
While poinsettia plants can be brought back into it’s distinctive colored bracts next year, that procedure is somewhat demanding.
Starting the first week of October (for an eight- to 10-week period) the plant must be kept in total darkness for 14 continuous hours each night. Keep the plant in darkness by moving it to a closet or covering it with a large box. During this period, the plant must also then receive six to eight hours of bright sunlight daily. Depending on the response time of the cultivar, the plant will come into full “bloom” during November or December.