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Poinsettias in the spotlight

QUESTION: I like to decorate with poinsettias for Christmas. What’s the best way to keep them looking good from now until New Year’s?

Poinsettias are a tropical plant, native to Mexico, so the first thing to remember is to keep them out of the extreme weather. If it’s a cold day when you bring them home (less than 50 degrees), don’t leave them in the car too long, and make sure they are protected on the trip from the car to the house.

Once inside, place them in a spot that gets indirect light. They’ll do well and last longer in a room that is not overly warm – 68 to 70 degrees is just about right. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Most likely the plastic pot will be wrapped in foil; it’s best to take the foil off when you water, to avoid trapping water that will cause the roots to rot. If the leaves become dry and curled, that’s a sign that it needs water. If a poinsettia wilts, that’s an indication that it may be getting too much.

Those are the basics for keeping a poinsettia looking cheerful through the holidays. If it starts to look a little sorry after that, don’t feel bad about tossing it into the compost. However, as often happens, a poinsettia can surprise you by pushing on healthy and strong into the New Year, and it’s a shame to discard something that’s growing so vigorously.

So, let it grow. Keep the soil moist and it should continue to thrive. As spring approaches, cut it back to about 8 inches tall and fertilize with an all-purpose plant food, and after there is no longer any danger of frost, re-pot it and set it outdoors, or plant it in the ground where it can survive as a nice, interesting green plant all summer (and succumb to its inevitable fate at the first sign of frost).

Here’s an interesting tidbit that comes from California poinsettia grower Paul Ecke Ranch: National Poinsettia Day is coming up! Dec. 12 marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States ambassador to Mexico, who gets credit for introducing the plant to the U.S.

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