By Jane Malec, EMGV
This is the first time ever that not only are my Christmas poinsettias alive after the holidays but they still look wonderful. Normally, these beautiful plants begin the slow painful death march in my car shortly after I purchase them. I have made every mistake possible … over water, under water, too little light, to hot or too cold … well, you get the idea. My job often involves the care of poinsettias and, yes, I kill them there too.
So it’s February, the poinsettias look like they aren’t going anywhere and, in the meantime, here come all the spring plants into the stores. Beautiful tulips, daffodils and hydrangeas. Their colors are pretty and announce the promise of spring not the memories of cold winters.
What sorry thing to be a healthy poinsettia living past your season. I wonder why is this? Red is a great color plus I have one that is variegated pink and spring green. Why is it we only want this interesting plant around during the Christmas season?
Poinsettias have an amazing history. The Aztecs called them Cuetlaxochitl and used them to control fevers in the 14th and 15th century. Their botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima, was assigned when a German botanist, Wilanow, discovered it growing through a crack in his greenhouse. The colors impressed him so much that he gave name Euphorbia pulcherrima which means very beautiful. While a US Ambassador in Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, brought cuttings back to his greenhouse in South Carolina in the 1820’s. They were finally grown as landscape plants in southern California in 1900’s. Now 70% of all poinsettias purchased in the United States are grown in that region.
By nature, poinsettias are flowering shrubs that, if planted in the ground, will grow up to 10′ tall. However, they aren’t frost tolerant so definitely aren’t bedding plants in the Triangle. The colorful parts of the plants are the bracts, which aren’t flowers, and are produced by photoperiodism. This means they require 12 hours of total darkness for five days in a row followed by abundant light during the day to achieve the beautiful colors.
So, how did I manage to keep these beauties alive this year? The care for poinsettias is complicated and not all that different from other house plants. Keep them away from temperature extremes, 60 – 70 degrees during the day, and take care on how you water. This year, I pulled them out of the shiny paper sleeves, watered them thoroughly and let them drain before putting them back to their spots and they got more sunlight in our new home then in the past. Wow … I have to roll my eyes at myself as I write this. It feels like I should have my EMGV title yanked. Seriously, though, I amazed at how wonderful they all look. Poinsettias will last 6-8 weeks in your home with this care and, if you fertilize them, they will continue to thrive.
Back to the original question … they lived so now what? For the first time, after Valentine’s Day, I’m taking my poinsettias to the compost pile without the feeling of failure. I am not going to hide them in the dark of my closest so that they will produce dramatic colors next Christmas. That is more than I can commit to or really more than I want to do.
The truth is I love spring and all that comes with it. Easter is the eternal birth of spring and we celebrate early by bringing the promise of it into our homes as soon as we can. I will bring home iris, hydrangea and hyacinth plants. When their flowers drop and it’s warm enough, I will plant them all in my yard hoping to see them flower next year.
However, next December, I will buy more beautiful poinsettias knowing that I corrected my techniques and that there won’t be any plants sobbing on the trip home. Maybe I’ll get one of those glittery poinsettias…hmm now that would be a challenge!