Gardener's Grapevine 2012.01.04

Written by David Green.

Happy New Year! The key word is new. With the holidays past, many of you have a poinsettia plant sitting there looking less than fresh. What to do? Well, I work with a doctor who keeps her poinsettias year after year, and yes, they bloom, but they are not the lush greenhouse plant they started as.

Prior to Christmas she and I were discussing poinsettias and their survival, and also how neither of us can stand to throw away another living thing. This is exactly why I never want a poinsettia during the holidays—they are beautiful, yet the dilemma begins after the holidays about what to do with the less-than-attractive, not dead plant. With that said, I did a little reading on this symbol of the holidays.

Here are some facts: The plant is a native of Mexico; it’s a perennial capable of growing up to ten-feet tall. The showy colored parts most people consider the flower is actually the plant’s bracts (a modified plant leaf associated with the plants reproductive system). The true flowers of the plant are the center of the bracts. Commercial poinsettias are priced on the number of “blooms” (bract clusters). The plant is not poisonous, but the sap can be irritating to the skin and give an upset stomach if consumed in large enough quantities. They are grown in all 50 states, there are more than 100 varieties, and 85 percent of all Christmas plants purchased are poinsettias.

Here are some pointers for caring for a poinsettia: When picking out a plant, make sure it is wrapped very well, as exposure to low temperatures for even a minimal time can stress the plant and shorten its life and leaf show. Set the plant in indirect light—they need six hours of light each day—and do not let it touch a window. It should be kept at a temperature of 60 to 70 degrees in daytime and 55 degrees at night.

The soil should be well drained. Punch holes in the foil and set it on a saucer to drain the excess water. Let the soil dry before watering; they do not like to be wet for long periods and a wet plant will drop its bracts faster.

To keep that plant going until next Christmas, it needs to be in a room with curtain filtered light and the soil must be allowed to go dry to the touch and watered only sparingly. In the winter months it will not grow, as this is its dormant stage and fertilizer uptake will be minimal.

After temperatures reach 50 degrees, the plant can be kept outside. Start it out in the shade for two weeks then move to part sun for two weeks then into full or partial sun. Do not put the plant in direct hot sunlight, as it will scorch the leaves. At this point the plant is in a weakened state and needs to be protected. It needs fertilized every fifth watering with houseplant, poinsettia or evergreen fertilizer to encourage growth. 

In the fall, bring the plant inside and begin the process of forming bracts. This process can take two months or longer. Change to a nitrogen based fertilizer, one for poinsettias is best, and reduce the amount of fertilizer to half of what you have been using.

Begin the process of long nights and short days—13 hours of pure darkness (this means uninterrupted darkness, not even a street lamp in the distance can be present) and 11 hours of sunlight. After two months, this pattern can be stopped, fertilizer decreased and the plant placed in the sunniest window in the house. Don’t over-water it.

If you have a notion to do this, I wish you the best of luck and I stand by my desire to not have these beautiful plants in my home, as I would never be able to do all this with my work schedule.

  • Front.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

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