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22 December 2014

Looking after a Poinsettia

This is the time of year when poinsettias make their annual appearance in supermarkets and garden centres - not surprising as their red and green foliage seems designed for Christmas. We bought one last year from a well-known supermarket (not that one) and it lasted for months. This is because the red foliage consists of long-lasting leafy bracts rather than soft petals that shrivel up quickly, allowing the poinsettia to look regal for up to twelve weeks or more.

Poinsettias come from Mexico and they were discovered by Joel Poinsett in 1825, but they were already associated with Christmas according to an old Mexican legend.

Their ability to grow and spread in warm countries has led to them being found in lots of different areas throughout the world. They actually grow as low hedges in the Canary Islands.

Poinsettias aren't difficult to look after - just remember where they come from. Keep them warm and away from draughts and don't place them on the windowsill where temperatures and light fluctuate widely. Give them bright light and a warm position instead.

We kept ours in the kitchen, near an east-facing window but not on the windowsill, and only watered it when it felt dry. Don't water a poinsettia for the sake of it, and when you do water it, do it from the top and allow the water to drain away.

Poinsettias are members of the Euphorbia family, and are short day plants induced into flower by twelve hours of equal day and night length. Once the days begin to lengthen the bracts drop, so expect two or three months of colour.

You can try to keep your plant from year to year, though the results tend to be disappointing due to problems providing the optimum growing conditions. However, you can give it a try, as follows:

In March, gradually reduce watering. Prune hard back once the plant drops its leaves and keep fairly dry.

In early May, increase watering, re-potting when new shoots start to develop.

Once established, feed weekly with a balanced liquid fertiliser.

As the days shorten, from October 10 to 20, give the plants 12 hours of light each day, and darkness for the next 12 hours, maintaining a minimum temperature of 65F (18C). You can supplement daylight with artificial light.

If you can manage the above conditions, you should see the red bracts and tiny yellow flowers on your plant for Christmas. If you can't then I'm sure there will be plenty about for you to purchase in December 2015!
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