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Gardening: Pick a poinsettia

Nov./Dec. 2007 California Country magazine

Poinsettias are popular holiday plants that can keep for longer than the winter season.



Poinsettias are the most popular holiday home decoration, with millions of plants sold during the six weeks that lead up to Christmas. In fact, more poinsettias are sold during those six weeks than any other potted plant during the entire year!

Although poinsettias come in a great variety of colors, traditional red is still the most popular by far, accounting for almost three-fourths of all poinsettias sold. There are white, pink, blends, speckled and now even custom painted poinsettias available to fit every decorating need.

In addition to so many colors, poinsettias are available in almost every size imaginable. The smallest are miniatures, in tiny 1-inch pots, that are only a few inches tall. The largest are in large tubs, stand 4 to 6 feet tall and are covered with dozens of flower heads. And there are many, many sizes in between. The best growers grow poinsettias of many different heights to fill specific needs in the home. Shorter varieties are kept about 6 to 8 inches and are grown in short, squat pots, making them perfect for tabletops (unless you don't want to see those seated across the table from you!). They also grow medium and taller plants for different sized entryways, desktops or other areas of the home or office.

Poinsettias are members of the Euphorbia family and have a milky sap. While some people may react in a negative way to that sap, poinsettias are not considered poisonous, even if ingested. However, I wouldn't try to eat them and I would avoid the sap. Sap from other members of the Euphorbia family—such as Euphorbia tirucalli, or pencil cactus—can and does cause problems, especially to the skin and eyes.

Poinsettias prefer similar conditions in the home as humans do. They enjoy bright light and moderate temperatures, generally between 60 and 70 degrees. They should be watered when the soil has begun to dry. If your house is on the cold side, let them dry a little more between waterings. A plant that is kept cold and wet will quickly die. Make sure to remove decorative pot coverings if they prevent water from draining out. A foil pot cover will prevent water from draining away and will drown your plant.

If you would like to keep your plant for next year, take it outside where it will get at least a few hours of sun each day and be protected from winter frost. Feed it a couple of times each month and cut it back a few times each year to keep it from getting too tall. It will never look like it did the first time you brought it home, but it can rebloom for you in subsequent years and give you lots of satisfaction.

Gardening to-do list for November/December

Prepare rose beds for bare-root season, which begins in December and January. Select and plant new roses as soon as they arrive in the nurseries. The sooner they are planted, the sooner they will become established and bloom.

Spray fruit trees now and again in January. Check with your local nursery as to the best sprays and timing for your area.

Prune deciduous fruit trees now through the end of January. Find out which branches to remove and which to keep if you want fruit! R. Sanford Martin wrote a good pruning book years ago called "How to Prune Fruit Trees." It's still an unbeatable reference.

Cover frost-tender plants with cloth during the coldest nights. Add Christmas lights beneath the cloth for additional warmth, taking care not to use bulbs that get too hot (which could create a fire hazard).


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