Poinsettias: Selection, Care and Propagation
Poinsettias are easily the best selling potted plant in the United States, with over $250 million in retail sales annually. Wholesale sales for poinsettias come in at over $150 million on an annual basis.
The vast majority of poinsettia potted plants are of course sold during the Christmas season, representing over 85 percent of all potted plants sold during the holidays.
Native to Mexico, the center of poinsettia production is in California at the Paul Ecke Ranch, which provides over 80 percent of the poinsettias for the wholesale market in the United States, and about 90 percent of global poinsettia production.
Even so, all 50 states grow poinsettias on a commercial basis. Close to 90 percent of the poinsettias produced in America are exported.
The popular plant was first introduced into the United States by Joel Poinsett, the first United States ambassador to Mexico, in 1825, who had the plant named after him as a result.
From that humble beginning poinsettias are now available in over 100 varieties.
As for color preferences, reds remain the most popular choice by far, with about 75 percent of people residing in the United States preferring them.
Far behind red poinsettias in popularity are white poinsettias, with 8 percent of Americans desiring them, and another 6 percent choosing pink poinsettias as their color of choice.
Poinsettia Selection Tips
We'll be getting into how to grow poinsettias later on in the article for those who want to try their hand at it and produce their own Christmas flower color. Now we'll get into how to select good poinsettias to enjoy and last throughout the holidays.
If you choose healthy poinsettias, they will last far beyond the traditional Christmas season. Some of these tips are pretty much common sense concerning flowers in general, while others are specific to poinsettias. Either way, it's good to be reminded and know what a quality poinsettia should look like.
First of all, the colorful leaves of a poinsettia are called bracts, and they should be fully colored. if they aren't almost or fully colored, pass on them and find some that are.
While somewhat obvious, plants that have some yellow leaves, or leaves that have fallen, should be avoided, as should those with wilt or droop to them. If there is wilt, you can quickly check the soil to see if is wet, as that is a probable sign of root rot.
Rather, what you should see is the foliage of the plant (aside from the bracts) have a dark green color right down to the soil. The foliage should also be uniform when looked at from all angles, presenting a full and complete look.
Also check if there is yellow pollen on the leaves, as that's an indication it's more mature and the bloom won't last as long. Look for flowers near the base of the bracts to see if they are green or have red tips. This should ensure a longer blooming plant.
Paul Ecke Ranch Sells Poinsettias
How Pointsettias are Displayed
How poinsettias are displayed in the store is also important. If they are crowded together, look for those that have more open space, as those stored closer together will usually lose their colorful leaves quicker.
Plants displayed in sleeves should also be avoided, as they tend to fail sooner. This is because of the build up of ethylene gas within the sleeve, which will cause curly leaves and premature dropping of them.
That doesn't mean they can't wear a paper or plastic sleeve, as they are necessary to its health if you're transporting in in temperatures below 50°F. In that case it's okay to have a temporary sleeve on it. Plants that are being displayed in sleeves is what you want to pass on.
As mentioned above, once you choose your poinsettias, the first step in care is to be sure it's protected during transport to your home. Again, if temperatures are below 50°F, take steps to guard the plant from exposure.
Temperatures close to or below that level can harm the leaves and bracts of the plant, causing damage to them. Don't think that it's just a short walk and trip home and the plant won't be harmed, as just a few minutes of exposure can devastate poinsettias.
When arriving home with your plants, be sure to unwrap them carefully so as not to harm them. Then place them in a part of the house which has indirect sun. About six hours of light a day is perfect for them.
Ideal Home Temperatures
Poinsettias are a little finicky about room temperature, and do best in a range of 60°F to 70°F in the day and about 55°F in the night. If the temperature is far off from that range, the life of the plant will be shorter.
If the night temperature in your home is higher than 55°F, change the location of the plants during those hours to a cooler room.
On the other hand, don't allow the plants to touch windows that are cold, or that will also shorten the life of the flower.
Also harmful to poinsettias are areas of the home which have cold or warm drafts. Place them somewhere away from obvious forced air outlets such as air vents, fans or radiators.
Watering and Fertilizer
Because poinsettias respond quickly to adverse conditions, there is a need to check the soil daily for moisture content. Don't keep the included foil whole, rather, poke holes in it so the water can drain freely from the pot.
Soil that is too wet will result in the bracts of the plant to fall before they need to or should. Water only when the plant is dry. Empty an excess water that has drained into the container you place the plant in.
For those wanting to keep their poinsettias into the new year, fertilizer should be applied once every month. Refrain from fertilizing when the plant is blooming.
If you acquire the right variety, poinsettias can last for months past the Christmas season if you care for them consistently and properly.
Gardeners who want to grow poinsettias year round are mostly limited to USDA zones 9 to 11. There could be some isolated exceptions to this general rule, but overall, it can be counted on as accurate.
That's not to say poinsettias can't be grown outdoors in the northern climates, just that they can't take cold well at all, and will survive only until the cold weather hits.
In the southern regions of the country they can be grown all year.
If left alone in a good location poinsettias can grow as tall as ten feet high, taking on the appearance of a shrub if it isn't managed.
When and Where to Plant Poinsettia
Since poinsettias are cold-hardy, they shouldn't be sown or planted until all danger of the last frost has passed.
As always with poinsettia, there must be a delicate balancing act in order to ensure it will thrive; that's especially true when placing them in the ground.
Poinsettias prefer a place with plenty of morning sun with some relief from it in the hot afternoons, making partial shade in the hottest part of the day the best choice for the locations of the plants.
A slightly moist, but not overly wet soil is best for them, so a location with good drainage is a must; a place where the moisture will be retained some but not allowed to stand.
Mulching is also very helpful because of the preference for a slightly cool soil.
The best way to propagate poinsettias is via cuttings. One way to do that is to cut slips of about 4" to 8" off the stems of the plants during the summer months. You then can dip them in the same type of rooting hormone you would use for rose cuttings.
An even easier propagation method is to cut the stems at about a foot and a half and simply sow them in a place with good soil while keeping them moist for about a month. The success rate is lower, but it involves little effort.
If you take cuttings later in the summer or early fall, then it's best to take the cuttings inside for the winter months and holiday season.
For warmer areas the newly sown stems will grow quickly once they set, and will grow as a shrub in appearance, rather than the forcibly small poinsettias we buy as potted plants in the stores during the winter.
Remember, if you live in warmer climates and the poinsettia grow year-round, they will act as the perennial they are, and will need to be placed in a part of the garden set aside for that purpose.
If poinsettia are planted in good soil, there isn't a need to fertilize them more than once a year afterwards. If the soil isn't as rich as it should be, fertilizing once a month will do the job.
The best time to fertilize the plants is at the beginning of the growing season in the spring.
Because they prefer a cooler and slightly moist soil, again, mulching them will help them perform much better. Mulch close to where the plant stem meets the soil.
When watering, be sure the soil is dry before adding more. If the soil around the plant is dry when you touch it, you'll know it needs a drink.
In the latter part of fall or the beginning of winter, do some pruning of old growth so the plant can push out new growth when spring arrives.
If your goal is to produce more flowers at the center of the plant (not the colorful leaves), pinch off excess shoots up until the early part of summer. After that let the plant grow uninhibited.
For that compact, sleek look desired for the holidays, prune or pinch off the tips when they are in a range of 4" to 6" long. If they grow at the same length before the latter part of August, cut them again to create the desired shape.
Cold or Warm Climates
Using these techniques, you can grow poinsettia year after year. In colder climates just take the slips or cuttings from existing plants and sow them in new pots and follow the above practices.
This can be done whether you keep them in pots or sow them in the ground as an annual.
Poinsettia diseases are almost always associated with too much moisture and overcrowding, in association with weather that is too hot or too cold for it.
Most of this can be almost completely controlled through the mulching and watering methods already mentioned, along with consistent pruning to allow for air circulation.
Placing them in soil with good drainage is the first step, and watching the plant or plants so it doesn't get too full or crowded is the second.
Other than unusual weather patterns, this should keep the majority of diseases away from the poinsettia, which are usually fungal in nature. If the weather is uncooperative, you may have to use a fungicide to control the situation.
Insects that can attack poinsettias include spider mites, white flies, fungus gnats, aphids and mealybugs.
Of all of these the most dangerous to poinsettias are mealybugs, which look like tiny bundles of cotton.
If you have relatively little area to cover, you can put alcohol on a swab and softly clean the leaves. This will control almost all the insect enemies of the poinsettias.
Insecticides may have to be used in case of infestation. Taking care of the insect problem immediately after finding it is usually enough to keep them from destroying the plants.
Getting Poinsettias to Turn Color
There's only one reason to grow poinsettia, and that's to be able to help them turn the gorgeous colors they are able to during the Christmas season.
To do that they must be placed somewhere where they will have absolutely zero sunlight for 14 to 16 hours a day. They must never be interrupted during that time until you bring them out for the 8 to 10 hours of sun you're going to give them. Don't put them somewhere where the temperatures approach about 70 degrees. They do best in a range of 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, otherwise they may fail.
Best practices is to place them in the dark from about 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. Be sure to give them sun for a minimum of six hours a day.
Those hours are recommended because they're generally the coolest part of the day. A general starting date to being this practice is about October 1st until the latter part of November or early part of December. Any accidental exposure to light when they're in the dark room will result in the leaves taking longer to turn the desired color.
Because they don't like warm or cool drafts at all, don't put them anywhere there is a vent during this process; that even includes when you have them on seasonal display in your home.
Even though the majority of people only see or are aware of poinsettias for about six weeks during the year, they remain among the most popular and recognizable of all flowers.
That's because most of them include the traditional red and green colors of Christmas, making them extremely attractive and festive-looking for the season.
Whether you want to buy them potted or start your own plants in the garden or the house, you can now pick out the best or grow your own poinsettias.
Either way, this wonderful flower will continue to attract admiration and delight when we see those colorful leaves splashed around the house as part of the Christmas holiday décor, or growing in our gardens as the bushy perennial it is.
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