Gardening: Poinsettias get you in the Christmas spirit

Poinsettias are perennials native to Mexico and Central America where they reach a height of 10 feet, (3 m) in moist ravines. In the wild, Poinsettias naturally receive 14 hours of darkness for at least eight weeks which is needed for the small yellow flowers to form and the colorful bracts to appear. If the perennial plants were planted in an urban setting, artificial light would interrupt the light dark ratio therefore flowers would not appear and the bracts would remain green.

The Poinsettias sold in Alberta red, pink, cream, yellow, white, salmon or a combination of have been growing in greenhouses for months. Workers have carefully tended the crop: transplanting, spraying, fertilizing, watering, pruning and insuring that the plants receive the correct amount of light and dark hours. Poinsettias are not an easy crop to grow. They need pampering to produce a colorful healthy crop for consumers.

Poinsettias are grown locally in a number of greenhouses in Central Alberta many of them commercial which supply local businesses. By the end of November the greenhouses are awash with color. Workers are busy tending the plants and packing them to ship to stores for sale. Those interested in supporting the local horticultural industry should ask where the plant was gown before making a purchase.

Poinsettias are available from greenhouses, grocery stores and big box stores. They are also available from many different community groups that use the plants for a fundraiser which benefits the local grower as well as the group raising funds.

When purchasing a Poinsettia choose one that has many branches or a number of plants in one pot. Leaves should cover all the stems from the pot to the bracts. Do not purchase a plant in a sleeve unless you can tell that all the branches are still attached to the main stem. Not examining the plant carefully or leaving in the sleeve is a mistake as Poinsettia branches are brittle making them subject to breakage if they are not handled carefully. Plants that have been allowed to dry out or have been subject to cold will have dropped their bottom leaves.

Purchase Poinsettias on warm days then, double wrap the plants when they are being transported. They will have arrived at the store in a sleeve and box and should leave with similar protection. Minimize the time they are exposed to the cold by making sure the vehicle is warm before transporting the plant.

To keep the colorful bracts as long as possible, place the plant in indirect, bright light. Making sure the plant is not in a warm or cold draft.

Water the plant when the top soil is dry. If the pot contains more than one plant, check the soil around each plant. When watering ensure that the moisture reaches each root system. The plant will drop leaves if it is dry or too wet.

If the bottom leaves begin to curl and fall, check the moisture level of the soil, then for drafts.

Poinsettias were once thought of as very poisonous but that was proven to be false. The milky substance that flows from the plant when a stem is broken or leaf removed can irritate the skin causing rashes but it is unlikely to kill a person or pet even if it is eaten.

Poinsettias are usually discarded after the holiday season but they can be kept as a green houseplant and with a bit of effort, be brought back into bloom the following season.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at your_garden@hotmail.com

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