Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
December, 2011
Regional Report

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Combine dark green houseplants with red and cream poinsettias for a handsome display.

Poinsettia For the Holidays

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a shrub native to Mexico. Joel Roberts Poinsett, a U.S. Ambassador to Mexico who also happened to be a plant enthusiast, is credited with bringing cuttings of this plant to his greenhouse in South Carolina in the 1820s. From that early introduction, it has become an incredibly popular holiday plant, with over 100 varieties and many colors and forms available.

Buying a Poinsettia
Poinsettia's red bracts are actually modified leaves. The true flowers are in a cluster in the center of the bracts. To bring a fresher, longer-lasting plant home, choose one with tight flowers that are green or red-tipped, rather than showing lots of yellow pollen. After the pollen sheds, the colored bracts will start dropping.

Some retailers may store plants on their shelves in paper or plastic sleeves, or jammed close together. Avoid these plants if possible, as they typically may experience premature leaf and bract drop.

Even desert gardeners experience cold weather, and we've been unseasonably nippy of late. When transporting your plant home, be sure it is protected from temperatures below 50 degrees F. Florists may wrap it in protective sleeve, which is fine for a short trip. Otherwise, tuck the plant into a large shopping bag and drive straight home.

Tending a Poinsettia
Like all members of the Euphorbiaceae family, poinsettias ooze a milky sap when cut. Wear gloves when handling, as this sap irritates the skin of some people. Otherwise, poinsettias are not poisonous.

Remove the decorative foil wrap and test the soil. If dry, give the plant a good soaking and let it drain in the sink. Water only when the soil is dry. If you wish to display the plant in the wrap, remove it for each watering. Or poke holes in the bottom of the wrap for drainage and empty water in its saucer. Don't let roots sit in saturated soil or they will rot.

Place the pot in a location away from cold drafts or heating vents. Sunny windows and indoor temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees F are recommended. Do not fertilize when in bloom.

Reblooming a Poinsettia
Southwestern aridity, indoors and out, is tough on poinsettia plants. However, if you want to try to get your plant to rebloom, fertilize monthly. Next October, keep the plant in total darkness between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. Put a box over it in a closet of an unused room, for example. Continue this until early December, when color should start to appear. If it doesn't work, you have a good excuse to visit local poinsettia festivals to see what new colors are offered.

Happy Holidays!

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