Wednesday, January 19, 2022
Jan. 19, 2022

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Gardening with Allen: Poinsettias sensitive to cold temps

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Just about Thanksgiving, large displays of poinsettias arrive in stores. Why is the poinsettia such a popular flower at Christmas time? What can we do to help the plants last longer at home?

The poinsettia’s red flowers and green foliage reflect the traditional Christmas colors. The plant’s history goes clear back to 1838 when Joel Robert Poinsett took a diplomatic trip to Mexico on behalf of President John Quincy Adams. He visited the Taxco area of Mexico, where he noticed the brilliant red leaves of an unfamiliar plant. Poinsett shipped plants back to his home in South Carolina to a greenhouse on his property. There, he studied and cultivated the plants. It wasn’t long before he began sharing the blooms with his friends and colleagues around Christmastime. This was when the upper part of the plant, which we refer to as flowers, would turn red in response to the shortening days of winter. The red bracts are actually leaves rather than flowers.

The reputation of the enchanting Christmas plants spread and soon a Pennsylvania nurseryman by the name of Robert Buist began to cultivate poinsettias. Buist would be the first to sell the plant to the public under the name poinsettia. He also helped to establish the plant’s Christmas reputation.

In the early 1900s, the poinsettia began to gain popularity. Paul Ecke Sr. developed the first poinsettia plants that were grown in pots in the greenhouse. He began selling them at roadside stands in Hollywood, Calif. The Ecke Ranch in San Diego has since developed the wide range of colors and improved varieties that are available today. Ecke also arranged with other greenhouses to propagate the potted plants and make them available nationwide. Greenhouse growers use shade cloth to shorten the days beginning in October so they will be in bloom by Thanksgiving.

One reason poinsettias have become popular is that they are so long-lasting. With proper care they will last more than a month.

Proper care starts when you bring the plant home from the store. Poinsettias are sensitive to cold temperatures. Even temperatures in the low 40s can cause leaves or petals to drop. If it is a long distance from store to the car, cover the plant with a bag or sweater.

More poinsettia plants are damaged by overwatering than underwatering. Before watering, check the soil with your finger to see if it is still moist on top. Apply enough water so a little runs out the bottom of the pot. Do not let water accumulate inside the foil wrap. You may remove the wrap and let the water drain into a saucer or the sink, or turn the plant upside down to drain water a few minutes after watering.

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