THE POINSETTIA which on December 1 offers us the merriest of season’s greetings is all too likely by January 1 to suggest only gruesome possibilities for the coming year. Yet this need not be so. Indeed, this Euphorbia pulcherrima can, with care, be an excellent year-round companion, one which is worth coaxing into bloom each winter. The following program has never failed me:
The secret to poinsettia success begins with a small, healthy plant in a 4-inch pot, which in November and December is not difficult to find. Small poinsettias are easier to care for and more fun to display than enormous specimens in 6- or 8-inch pots. Remove foil wrappings at once — they are death traps. Then set the plant in a sunny but cool window (55-65 degrees is ideal). It is dim light, high heat and low humidity that cause leaves and colorful bracts (we call these bracts “flowers”) to prematurely wither and drop.
Provide water, but only when the top soil looks and feels dry. Be sure to water thoroughly, until excess seeps from the drainge hole. Then promptly empty the saucer beneath. Poinsettias will not tolerate wetness at their feet.
In my south music room window, a dusty pink poinsettia associates well with purplish-green tradescantia, white kalanchoe, orange “Christmas Cherry,” and paper-white narcissi. Red varieties, such as the 3 in my bathroom window garden, make a stunning scene there in conjunction with green ferns and vines. I’m not particularly fond of white poinsettias, although these too look well when placed among green growers.
If you can’t bear the sight of “Christmas” plants after New Year’s Day — I certainly can’t — move your Euphorbia to a less-public window. I move mine in early January to the east window in my little-used guestroom. There, the plants reside on glass shelves and receive daily inspection for water.
In June, when all the other houseplants go outdoors, my poinsettias do too. I cut their tops back to 3 inches at this time, and then repot the plants into fresh soil. To fit them back into 4-inch pots, I find it’s necessary to prune the roots a little. How they thrive during their summer sojourn in light, open shade on the front porch. I pamper them with regular watering and weekly feeding. As new leaves form, stems are pinched back frequently to keep growth bushy and low.
The first week in September, plants must return to indoor life. Mine return to the guestroom. Since poinsettias are short-day, long-night plants, to bloom they must have definite darkness for at least seventy days. And that darkness must not be interrupted by so much as the gleam of a street lamp. I set them inside the cabinet that forms a broad sill for the window, where their dark schedule is 8pm to 8am.
With this routine, you can count on your investment of one Christmas to pay rich dividends for Christmasses to come. And let me tell you — the satisfaction of reblooming a poinsettia is substantial indeed.
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