Through the holiday season, we celebrate many familiar traditions. One symbol of the holidays that graces the window seals, hearths and tabletops; is the poinsettia. Every time I see a poinsettia, it takes me back to my college days. I worked in the greenhouse at ABAC for several semesters and I came to loathe the arrival of poinsettias. The sheer number of plants we cared for at that time of year brought extra watering and more work. South Carolinian Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, introduced the poinsettia to the United States in 1825. They are a great gift for a splash of color in the home, but what happens after Christmas?
Poinsettia plants can last for years if given the right care. The plants come in several colors; scarlet, ivory, pink, mauve, marbled and speckled. Poinsettia flowers are actually the tiny yellow bloom in the middle of the plant, the most colorful part is the plants leaves or bracts. Choose healthy plants before you bring them home to ensure they will survive through the holidays. Look for strong sturdy stems and dense foliage. Choose plants with no blemishes and whose yellow flowers have just begun to open. If possible inspect the roots, choose plants with lots of tan and white roots.
During the holidays, it is fine to keep the plants in their decorative locations for up to three weeks, but you will later need to move them to a more suitable location so they receive at least six hours of light a day. The plant is native to Mexico so it prefers temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees. These plants are very susceptible to root rot so do not overwater them. It is best to remove the holiday foil around them to make sure they are not sitting in a tray of water. Apply water until it drains out of the bottom of the pot and do not water again until it is dry. Do not fertilize the poinsettia when it is in bloom. Wait until bloom is over and you move it to a more sunny/permanent location.
In April cut the plant back to about 10 inches or until there are four to six nodes of the stem above the soil. You can then move the poinsettia outside if you like. Plant them in a one gallon pot or larger. Fertilize with a complete (10-10-10) fertilizer every two weeks through the spring and summer. Shape the plant as desired; pruning or pinching to encourage branching and fullness. When the temperatures fall below 60 degrees bring your poinsettia back indoors. If you want to force the plant to re-bloom, manipulate the amount of sun it receives. Around Oct. 1 give the plant 14 hours of continuous darkness daily until bract color is well developed (it takes about a month). During the remaining 10 hours a day, it will need maximum light.
If you have further questions on agriculture or natural resources please contact me, Jennifer Miller, at the Jeff Davis County Extension Office: 912-375-6648. Or visit us online at: http://extension.uga.edu/county-offices/jeffdavis.html or subscribe to the Plow Points Ag Blog: http://blog.extension.uga.edu/plowpoints/