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Care preserves poinsettias

Kings revered them.

Monday, November 29, 1999

Kings revered them. Ancient cultures made dye and medicine from them. And, each Thanksgiving week, just about every department store, greenhouse and roadside stand start selling them. Poinsettias – the official plant of the Christmas season.

"The history is huge on the poinsettia," said Dave Roberts of Roberts Greenhouse, who held a caring-for-poinsettias workshop recently at Briggs Lawrence County Public Library’s South Point branch.

Today’s plants, with their distinctive red, variegated or white foliage, fill homes, yet offer unique challenges to gardeners.

The vibrant colors that mimic the season’s decorations make that challenge worth it, though, said Ann Lemley, local resident and gardener who attended the workshop.

"There’s nothing else like it," Mrs. Lemley said.

"My mother, grandmother and her grandmother grew them," she said. "It’s just associated with this time of year."

There are many varieties to choose from, and in an equal number of colors, Roberts said.

The Orion type lasts for a long time and is popular with greenhouses. Some plants sport red, pink, white, marble, peppermint, red-and-pink-flecked and other foliage, he said.

"If you do purchase a poinsettia, take it and set it in a sunny window and avoid drafts," Roberts said. "Cold temperatures will shock them."

In fact, the plant rarely survives a temperature below freezing for more than 30 to 60 seconds, he said.

"So, if you buy a poinsettia on a cold day, run."

Place poinsettias around a home where there is enough light to sit beside the plant and read a newspaper during the day, Roberts said.

A home temperature of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal, he said.

Water poinsettias sparingly. In a 60-degree home that means about twice a week, more if it’s hotter, he said.

And when watering, take the wrapping off the pot, sit it in the bathtub and water it until the liquid drains through the soil, he said.

To keep poinsettias all year, Roberts suggests taking them outside in mid-May and planting in a sunny location. Put them in a larger pot.

And, use proper fertilizers – indoor plants need indoor fertilize, and outdoor plants can use outdoor fertilizer, he said.

For blooming purposes, make sure the poinsettia is not affected by artificial light, Roberts said.

Poinsettias respond to shorter days, so about July 15, when it gets dark outside, move them to a dark room, then back out when it’s light again, he said.

And, if the dog or overly-active grandchild tips the poinsettia pot over?

"Dip the broken stem for about 15 seconds in rubbing alcohol to stop the latex from coagulating," Roberts said. "Then put it in a vase. It should last a couple to three days."