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How to keep poinsettias happy and blooming

Tips for selecting healthy holiday plants

Poinsettias these days come in many more colors than the classic red, including white, yellow, gold, pink and variegated.

Poinsettias these days come in many more colors than the classic red, including white, yellow, gold, pink and variegated.

Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau

Christmastime has flower lovers seeing red – as in poinsettias. In recent years, yellow, gold, pink, white and variegated poinsettias are showing up in the mix, too.

It’s poinsettia season and this Mexican native is everywhere, forced into December bloom. The poinsettias available today are better than the ones sold a generation ago – and it’s not just the wider range of colors.

“Breeders are also enhancing features that make the plants more enjoyable for everyone,” says Diane Blazek, executive director of National Garden Bureau. “They’re developing varieties that bloom earlier, have longer-lasting blooms, and unique bract shapes.”

The bracts – what most people think of as petals – now come curly, skinny or extra wide. No matter the bract shape, the key to selecting a fresh poinsettia that will last until New Year’s is focusing on what’s at that center of those bracts – the small yellow true flowers or cyathia. They should look fresh and not turning brown. Any poinsettias missing those little yellow flowers are past their prime.

The bracts should appear fresh, too, but also notice the dark green leaves lower on the stem. Make sure the foliage looks healthy and not drooping or falling off.

According to experts, the most common problem with poinsettias is overwatering. People kill them with kindness. Take off the foil wrapper or punch holes in the bottom (and place a saucer underneath). Poinsettias – semi-tropical members of the Euphorbia family – demand good drainage and prefer soil on the dry side of moist. Give the plant a drink once a week (or as needed) and don’t let the poinsettia stand in water. The best way to know if your poinsettia needs watering? Pick it up. If it seems light, it’s time to water.

Cold kills poinsettias; they can’t take prolonged temperatures under 50 degrees. So, if decorating with poinsettias outdoors, bring them inside or protect them at night. They prefer bright light and temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees (just like most people do).

Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous – to people, dogs or cats. Studies at Ohio State and Washington State universities debunked myths about poinsettia toxicity. A 50-pound child would need to eat more than 500 poinsettia bracts to reach a toxic level.

That doesn’t mean poinsettias are edible. Their milky sap will cause mouth and skin irritation (and keep any person or animal from munching them).

For more on poinsettia care:


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

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