Monday, December 13, 2010

Oh Great! A friend just gave me a poinsettia.

You set a wonderful table, invited all the right guests, and are ready to celebrate the coming of Christmas with good friends and family. But .......oh no, someone did not bring you a nice bottle of zinfandel, but a glorious blooming plant. Yes, you have just received a poinsettia, aka Euphorbia pulcherrima, or better yet and according to the Aztecs, Cuitlaxochitl (I can't pronounce it either).

Since poinsettias bloom naturally in October, Franciscan priests during the 17th century near Taxco incorporated the plant into the Fiesta of Santa Pesebre nativity procession signaling the coming of Christmas. They used the concept of blood sacrifices from Aztec tradition to have the poinsettia represent the blood of Christ to Catholics and Christians.

But you don't live in the mountains outside of Mexico City. So what do you do to maintain the glory of this plant? 

Poinsettias thrive on indirect, natural daylight -- at least six hours a day. Avoid direct sunlight, as this may fade the bract color. If direct sun cannot be avoided, diffuse the light with a shade or sheer curtain. To prolong color, keep plants out of traffic areas and protect from cold drafts and excessive heat. Ideal temperatures are 67F to 70F during the day and 60F to 62F at night. Remove damaged or diseased leaves.

Poinsettias require moderately moist soil. Check plants daily and water thoroughly whenever the soil feels dry to the touch. Plants in clay pots require more water, while those in plastic pots are easily over watered. Apply water until it runs out the drainage hole. However, do not allow poinsettias to sit in standing water. If the container is wrapped with foil, remove it when watering or make a hole in it for drainage. Discard any collected water in the drainage receptacle.

A poinsettia does not require fertilization while it is in bloom. However, to maintain green foliage and promote new growth indoors after the holidays, apply a balanced all-purpose house plant fertilizer once per month. Always follow the directions on the fertilizer label.

What to do with your poinsettia after Christmas? Here is what works great for me.
  1. With a sharp pair of shears, trim off the top of the plant near to the soil surface
  2. Gently tap the soil and root ball from its container, taking care to not allow any soil medium to fall to the kitchen floor
  3. Rinse and remove any debris from the pot. After sterilization, put the pot under the kitchen sink or on a shelf in the garage.
  4. Place the stems and leaves into the compost pile out back, and 
  5. Buy a new one next year! Support your local growers
Yes, reblooming a poinsettia is a real pain, but if you really want to try it, instructions for reflowering can be found here.

......and don't even try to tell me that poinsettias are poisonous, 'cause they ain't!