Q: OK, I’m trying to be better prepared. I got several poinsettias last year over the holidays and planted them. Some died. Some lived. What should I be doing with the ones I plan to get this year?
Answer: Timely question! Light (artificial and sun), temperature and maintenance (planting, pruning, water, fertilizer) could be factors in how well your poinsettias performed last year.
The poinsettia was introduced in the United States in 1825 by Joel Poinsett, the ambassador to Mexico. The traditional poinsettia is bright red, which is more easily established for outdoor use than other colors. After much breeding, several other colors are available, including pink, peach, white, burgundy, yellow and marbled colors.
What some think of as the flowers are really the leaves, or bracts. The actual flowers are the tiny clusters in the middle of the bracts.
This is a “short day” plant, meaning it blooms when days are short and nights are long. Blooming requires an extended period of darkness. If the plant is near artificial light, such as a street light or exterior house lighting, after Oct. 1, there will be a flowering delay.
This tropical plant likes temperatures in the area of 75 to 80 degrees during the day and 65 degrees at night. Yes, we’re already there!
Indoors, don’t fertilize or overwater. Give it a drink only when the soil is dry.
You can plant your poinsettia outside after the last chance of frost has passed, which is generally around mid-February. Outdoors, it should be located in the sun but away from artificial light.
Prune to 4 to 6 inches of stem on each branch; then fertilize monthly with a balanced fertilizer from March to October.
This plant has received a bad reputation as being poisonous, but it isn’t. There is a white, milky sap in the stem, however, and if you are allergic to latex, you are probably better off not handling this plant.
For information about this holiday gem, please see the University of Florida publication from which this information was adapted: “Poinsettias at a Glance” by Sydney Park Brown at http://edis .ifas.ufl.edu/ep349.
Lynn Barber is the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods agent at Hillsborough Extension. Reach her at BarberL@hillsboroughcounty.org.