By Brent Gray
This plant is by far the most popular flowering plant for the holidays. Today’s poinsettia breeders have greatly widened the color range of these beautiful plants from every shade of white, red, and pink to variegated combinations of these. There’s even a purple poinsettia appropriately called, “Plum Pudding.” Also, there are poinsettias with double red flowers that look like huge roses! This selection is appropriately called “Winter Rose.” If you are the one purchasing the poinsettia, always examine the flowers. No, not the colorful petals, which are, actually modified leaves called bracts. The tiny buds located at the center of the whorl of bracts are the true flowers of the poinsettia and are called cyathia. Select a plant if possible that still has the flowers buds tightly closed rather than fully open displaying the fuzzy yellow stamens. Definitely pass over plants that do not have any cyathia or are missing some. These are old plants because after flowering, the cyathia abscise and fall from the plant.
At home keep the plant away from heat and water only when the soil is dry. More indoor plants are killed by over watering than any other practice. Keep your poinsettia in a cool room with bright light and it should stay attractive well into January. As it begins to decline, my inclination is to chunk the whole thing in the trash, but if you’re a gardener who likes a challenge you can keep it, plant it out next summer and try your hand at coaxing it into bloom for next Christmas. For complete instructions on how to do this go to the county Extension office and ask for Information Sheet 227, Caring for Poinsettias.
If you’ve never had a Christmas cactus you should give these beautiful plants a try. These succulents can be forced into bloom-actually we’re not forcing anything, but taking advantage of a natural process called photoperiodism, the triggering of flowering or other growth responses of a plant due to changes in the length of the light and dark periods. Rather than manipulating the light period to initiate flower formation, you can take the easy way out and purchase a plant whose buds are showing color. Carried-over plants from last year should be kept in a semi-dormant state with little water and reduced light from September to October. Leave it outdoors during the cool nights and short days of these two months so that flower buds will form. Bring it indoors on those nights that frost threatens, and put it in a room or closet that can be darkened for more than twelve continuous hours. Put back outside during the day. After the buds begin to form increase the light and lightly water until color shows in the buds. When buds are showing color, it is safe to move the plant indoors to a cool, sunny location for flowering.
While blossoming, do not over water them, but keep the soil slightly moist. After blooming, they start their growth stage and should be given more water and fertilized as new growth increases. They will continue to grow until you harden them off in September. Christmas cactus bloom best when slightly pot-bound. For more detailed information on these plants and other holiday plants call your Extension office and request the new publication, “Holiday Houseplants,” publication 2309.