Have you decided that Christmas poinsettias are a waste of money? Well, perhaps you should reconsider. Here’s a plant that, during the drab winter months, dazzles you with velvety red brilliance that makes any room come alive. It’s the essence of luxury. We’re not talking about scrawny, pale, big-box commodity Poinsettias that fall apart within days because of poor handling. We mean big, bold, crimson-covered florist-quality plants.
It is easy to get frustrated with poinsettias. If they aren’t handled right by the shipper and the seller, they can look great when you buy them yet turn yellow and lose their leaves in a few days. Quality Poinsettias are a result of careful and expensive hybridizing. Good ones have a “pedigree”. Once you buy them, you can make Poinsettias last for months and months if you understand a few basics.
The first thing to understand about Poinsettias is that they need lots of light and they can’t stand drafts. To make them last all season and beyond, start by getting them from a grower who handles them properly, or they can drop all their leaves the minute you get them home. Avoid cold or drafts. Have the florist “sleeve” your plants, and don’t let then sit in your cold car while you shop. Unwrap the plants as soon as you get home; they need to “breathe” and don’t like being squeezed into a wrapper for very long.
A good rule of thumb is that if you feel a draft yourself, the plant feels it too. Poinsettias will hold their blooms longer at 60 degrees than at 75 or 80, but a draft will finish them off quickly. That’s why it’s so harmful to ship and store them like groceries or hardware, the way big-box retailers do.
Poinsettias are forced into bloom under perfect growing conditions, most often in the sunny Southwest, and then shipped great distances. Poinsettias do better in your house if they have been “hardened off” by varying the temperature (more like the conditions you have at home) so they’re not so tender. This takes more time and trouble, but good growers take this important step.
Poinsettias need lots of light but don’t like much direct sun. An East or North-facing bright room is best. Lack of sufficient sunlight will cause the plants to become spindly, with fading color and yellowing, small leaves. The best way to feed them is to mix a little fish emulsion or Miracle-Gro in their water. Their roots need to breathe, so it’s best to let the soil dry out between watering. Over-watering will make them wilt and drop their leaves, however if they get a bit dry they’ll bounce right back when you water.
Keeping Poinsettias year after year requires a ritual of letting them go dormant and then come back, like a perennial. Unless you have a home greenhouse you can’t duplicate their native growing conditions, so it’s very difficult to get as pretty a result as the original greenhouse-grown plant. But who cares? Treat yourself to a dazzling show and enjoy it while it lasts. Think of it as a Christmas bouquet. If you follow our suggestions, Poinsettias can look good for months or even longer, something no cut flower arrangement could ever do.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.