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Lawn and Garden

Those Wonderful Poinsettias

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11/01/2011 - Well it looks like winter is finally settling in to stay with us for a while, but after such a nice fall I suppose it is only fair that winter gets to take hold in the middle of November. But I will miss the fall season. Lately, at the greenhouses, most of our time has been spent getting the poinsettias ready to go for Christmas. This is always one of my favorite times because the Poinsettias make a carpet of Christmas colors in nearly every greenhouse. As I have said in the past, I love Christmas and the holiday season, so being immersed in holiday colors from the end of October on is just fine with me.

Many of you will have Poinsettias in your home soon, so I thought I would give you some tips on taking care of them. The first thing I should mention is that Poinsettias are Euphorbias. Many of the plants in the Euphorbia family resemble cacti more than they do Poinsettias. I tell you this because euphorbias are adapted to hot dry climates, and knowing that will help you avoid two of the three most common causes of "Pre-Christmas Poinsettia Death". (Everything gets a name now.) They are overwatering and excessively cold temperatures. Since a poinsettia is native to Mexico they are extremely well adapted to getting by on a small amount of water, but are not adapted at all to dealing with an excess of water in the soil. So if you give them too much in your home they will likely develop problems. The biggest problem I see from overwatering is root rot. Root rot is caused by a fungus and it kills the roots of the plant. As it does this the top of the plant will start to show signs of wilting. Often people see the wilt and they give the plant another drink of water, which compounds the problem. The best way to avoid this is to feel the soil before you water. If it feels dry to the touch water that plant. If it feels wet let it go another day. When you do water them, give them enough that it wets the soil all the way through.

Your poinsettias water needs will change as the season goes by. For example, when poinsettias come out of the greenhouse they use more water than after they have been in your home for a week or two. So a plant that needed water every two days when you first got it might only need water once a week as Christmas approaches.

The other thing that kills off a lot of poinsettias is the temperature. As I said before Poinsettias are native to Mexico, so their optimum temperature is about 65-72 degrees. Although they are well adapted to surviving in temperatures higher than that, they haven't developed any defenses against the cold. If it is below 32 degrees out poinsettias must be covered, even a 5 second walk to the car uncovered will kill a poinsettia at 20 degrees. Most of the time if you flash-freeze a poinsettia like this you will know the next morning because the leaves will begin to turn black and mushy. Once your poinsettia is in your home do not let it stay in a room that is below 55 degrees for any extended period, and don't put it too close to the door because the draft might be too cold as people come and go. A good rule of thumb for temperature is, if you are comfortable your poinsettia will be too.

Following this advice will help you avoid two of the three most common poinsettia killers. The third cause of Pre-Christmas Poinsettia Death is definitely the most common cause in my house. I like to call it the set it and forget it cause. I bring a beautiful poinsettia home, I set it on the table, and instantly I develop amnesia. Next thing I know I realize it might need a drink as I am stepping on its dried leaves the day after New Years. Now to my credit this doesn't happen every year, but if I said it never did I'd be lying. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and a great start to the Holidays.

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