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You may have received poinsettia as a Christmas gift before. Or bought them yourself in the spirit of the season. Trouble is the plant never seemed to last. Most likely the flower bracts remained but the leaves dropped leaving you with flowers atop a naked stem

Finding himself in political trouble, the US Ambassador to Mexico Joel Roberts Poinsett packed his bags and returned home to South Carolina in 1928. Among his luggage were cuttings of a beautiful Mexican wildflower that interested him, and which eventually took his name, the poinsettia. But the Poinsettia   Robert brought from Mexico is a far cry from the Poinsettias of today.  For the last Century and a half Poinsettias were short lived. Keeping Christmas plants alive between Christmas and New Year required all the skills a gardener could muster.

Luckily a mutation was discovered in 1963 that kept its leaves for long. Further plant breeding resulted into the Poinsettias we have today.  What is remarkable about these plants are not the flowers, but rather the colourful bracts (leaves) which enclose   small yellow flowers. The red leaves are as a result of photoperiodism, whereby a plant responds to light quantity or lack thereof by turning from green to red or other hues.

Care for poinsettias.

Christmas plants should be kept away from drafts.  They need sun for half the day with temperatures ranging about 21 degrees during the day and 16 degrees at night.  When watering, avoid drowning the plant. Rather let it dry out between watering. This is not the time to feed it too.

If your plant has drops leaves, it possible warm dry conditions are behind it. Keep it in a cool place and monitor your watering.

Like other plants understanding their original climate helps in telling us how to care for them.  In their natural environments, poinsettias begin forming buds at the time when nights are getting longer before blooming in December.  We can mimic this environment indoors by giving them sunlight for shorter periods (9-10hours) and more hours of darkness from the last week of September. Some people will cover them at 5.00 o’clock every evening and uncover them at 7 the next morning.  Others simply keep them in the closet. What you need to know is that once you indulge in this practice, be sure to keep it that way every day till end of October. If light ever gets into their dark time, they will not form buds! However if you observe this routine, you can get your plants out at the beginning of November and treat them like other plants.

Once the flowering is over and bracts have faded, you don’t have to throws them out. Prune and repot them. Place them in a protected sunny place and feed them as await the cycle again in September. Even though the plants  may last for several seasons,they eventually run out of their prime. It is time to plant them out in the garden and make them part of the garden plants.



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