Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
January, 2011
Regional Report

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Continue to give your poinsettia bright light if you plan to carry it over for another year of bloom .

Simple Reminders Keep Plants Blooming

Rachel wrote saying that her poinsettia didn't bloom this year. This is a familiar scenario when the poinsettia plant growing in the kitchen is exposed to light during the evening hours. To bloom, the poinsettia needs special treatment.

Those of us who keep our poinsettia plant year after year must plan on taking steps to provide the proper growing conditions for flowering success. Poinsettias respond to day length, or more important in our home growing conditions, the amount of darkness. To get a holdover poinsettia to bloom at again home, it must receive at least 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness each evening for 8 to 10 weeks beginning in mid-fall. You can meet this requirement by slipping a light-tight box or plastic bag over the plant at 5 p.m. each evening and keeping it in place until 8 a.m. the next morning. It is critical that the covering keep all light out. Only five minutes of light on one evening from the television or a reading lamp will delay flowering of the poinsettia by two weeks or more.

I mark my calendar and begin the process of keeping the plant covered each evening around October 1. By late November the poinsettia will be showing color in the bracts. I've had great results by keeping my poinsettia plants in a spare room that does not have any lights turned on after dark. Temperatures tend to be a bit cooler, but the light during the day is bright enough to sustain good foliage growth.

So if you have a poinsettia that your are determined to keep over the years, continue to grow it as a houseplant in a location that receives bright light. I generally prune off the faded bracts around Valentine's Day. This is a good time to shape the plant as well. Cut off the spindly growth and shape to encourage strong stem grow. I suggest that you prune and shape your poinsettia plant over the spring and summer to create a plant that has strong stems and a shapely form. The last pruning and shaping should be completed by July 4.

Continue to water the potting mix as needed and fertilize; use a half-strength 10-10-10-plant food every two to three weeks. Remember, the poinsettia plant will put out more robust growth when placed in a brightly lit location. Some gardeners have great success growing their poinsettia underneath a shade tree during the summer months. Just be prepared to ward off any pests that can damage the foliage and stems. Then, bring it indoors as night temperatures start to drop below 55 degrees.

Many of us may have received potted chrysanthemums as gift plants. Once planted to the outdoor garden, we soon discover that they refuse to bloom until late fall, just before a fall freeze burns the buds and flowers to a crisp. Greenhouse mums are also photosensitive, much like the poinsettia. If you have a problem getting your carryover potted mums to bloom regularly, simply cover the plants with a large light-tight box or dark cloth starting in late July.

With potted mums, be sure to pinch the plant back several times throughout the growing season to produce a bushy, more compact plant. Clip, or pinch out with your fingers, the terminal buds after the plant has started growing in the late spring and has produced a half dozen leaves or more. As the plant grows another six inches or so, the plant should be pinched back about an inch. This will cause side shoots to grow. The pinching or pruning process should continue until mid-July. Otherwise, for more dependable outdoor blooming chrysanthemums, plant the hardy outdoor varieties. There are so many colorful choices to choose from.

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