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THE CHRISTMAS POINSETTIA

PoinsettiaThe traditional Christmas plant is the beautiful poinsettia, Euphorbia Pulcherrima. The red-flowering varieties are favored, but pinks and white are gaining in popularity each year.

Extensive hybridization in the past few years has resulted in the introduction of some outstanding new varieties. The improved strains are especially noted for their much longer flowering period and for the way in which they hold their lower leaves. Plants may remain in bloom until April or May,

This article has been written for those who want to save their poinsettia plants after the flowers are over. There is no way to assure they will flower again the following year, but the steps outlined here will be helpful if you wish to try.

While your plant is in bloom, keep it in a room where you can best enjoy its loveliness. It prefers a lot of light while flowering, so a sunny window would be an excellent choice. Be sure to provide sufficient humidity (moisture in the air). Placing a glass of water near the plant may be sufficient. A better method is to fill a saucer with gravel then half full of water. Placing the plant on the gravel will provide an island of humidity around it.

Watch the watering closely because poinsettias use rather generous quantities of water while they are in flower. This is partly due to the fact that they are generally grown in a rather sandy, well-drained and quick to dry out soil.

Poinsettia plants are usually wrapped in fancy foil when you buy them. It is very important that a hole is cut in the bottom of this foil, so gathering water does not eventually drown the plant.

This general outline explains the special care required for poinsettias throughout the year.

January to April - Enjoy the flowers on your poinsettia as long as they last. When they fade and the lower leaves begin to fall naturally, cut the stems back to about four to six inches from the ground. If your plant still looks nice and healthy, this step is not necessary. When you do cut it back, move the plant in its pot to a cool, dark place like the basement or garage. In such locations, weekly watering is probably all that will be needed.

May - The soil in the pot has probably been exhausted by now, so it is time to. repot into fresh dirt. I recommend a good commercial potting mix, available at any garden department. If you want to mix your own, use one-half sandy loam, one-quarter leaf mold or peat moss and one-quarter well rotted and sterilized cow manure. Choose a pot that is only one to two sizes larger than the previous one.

June- Now that the ground has begun to warm up and all danger of frost has passed, the plant can be set outdoors. Select a bright, sunny spot in the garden and leave the plant in its container. Simply plunge the pot into the ground.

July and August- Usually the plant will become too tall and rangy for use again at Christmas. It is better to take cuttings from the tip growth of the mother-plant. Take cuttings with three or four eyes, severing them at a slight angle. Dip each one in a rooting hormone and plant them in 2 1/2-inch pots filled with sand or a combination of sand and peat moss.

Keep the cuttings in a room where the temperature is between 68 and 75 degrees. Once they have taken root and have filled the pot with a complete root system, you can repot two of three of them into a four to six-inch pots.

September- Bring the original plant back inside early in the month, before temperatures cool and before there is danger of frost. Feed them every two or three weeks with a low nitrogen, bud-setting type of fertilizer. Keep in a bright, sunny location closely resembling the exposure it had outdoors.

October and November- This is the critical time for setting flower buds; the key is total darkness at night. Mother Nature's signal for poinsettias to begin flowering is short days and long nights. You must duplicate this environment for both the cuttings and the mother plant, by providing full daylight during the daytime hours and complete darkness at night. This means not even a lamp should be turned on after the sun goes down. During this period, temperatures of 68 to 72 degrees should be maintained. The plants will not tolerate sudden temperature changes.

December- If you have taken proper care of your poinsettia plant, it may begin to flower. Watch the watering and humidity and enjoy the striking flowers during the holidays and into the new year. The plants started from cuttings should also come into bloom and should be treated in the same manner as the mother plant.

Mealy bugs and aphids are occasional insect pests. If either appears on your plant, simply dust or spray with an all-purpose houseplant insecticide.

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