Long Lasting Poinsettias

Have you seen the poinsettia plants in stores already? Are poinsettias just like other Christmas merchandizing: sell earlier and earlier in hopes of selling more? I’m sure that is part of it, but I have seen a lot of pink poinsettias which are being promoted for the Susan G. Komen campaign for breast cancer cure. A pink poinsettia ought to be as good a symbol as a pink ribbon.

Actually, the poinsettia was picked as a symbol for Christmas because it naturally blooms outdoors in late November and early December. Poinsettias can be grown as flowering shrubs in frost free climates.

The formation and coloring of the floral bracts is controlled by day length (or more accurately by night length). The lengthening nights of fall trigger the development of an enzyme which controls flower formation. Greenhouse growers cause plants to bloom early by covering plants with black cloth in early afternoon to make longer nights.

Poinsettias can be forced into bloom at any time of year simply by lighting or darkening to control growth and flowering. I saw pink poinsettia plants for sale in Israel a number of years ago in the month of June. Why not enjoy a beautiful flowering plant at other times of year?

Modern poinsettia varieties are much improved over varieties of even 10 years ago. Plant breeders are continually making improvements to increase the range of colors and increase the length of flowering time. With proper care plants will retain their flowers and leaves for 2 full months or longer.

The two main care factors are temperature and watering. Poinsettia plants will drop flowers and leaves if exposed to cold temperatures. It only takes a few minutes of temperatures below freezing to damage plants. Longer periods of temperatures below 40 degrees can also be damaging. Purchasing poinsettias early reduces the risk of plants being exposed to cold temperatures during transit to the store or from store to home.

The main cause of premature leaf and flower drop is caused by lack of oxygen to the roots. Almost all poinsettia plants are wrapped in foil. Foil traps the overflow water when plants are watered. This water trapped in the foil wrapper is reabsorbed back into the pot. When the soil is continually saturated with water there is not enough room for oxygen in the soil pore space. This causes roots to die. Without sufficient roots to support leaves and flowers, plants start dropping them.

Overwatering can be avoided by removing the foil wrapper when you water plants or by making holes in the foil so excess water can flow through. Make sure the top of the soil is dry before watering plants.

It is also helpful to place plants near windows where they can get additional light and away from drafty door ways. So go ahead and enjoy poinsettia plants now. There is no reason to wait.

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