Now that the holidays are over, you may be wondering what to do with those plants that make us think about Christmas- amaryllis, Christmas cactus and of course poinsettias. It seems like stores have a greater variety of colors each year, along with the traditional red. If you purchased a poinsettia or received one as a gift this year, you can turn it into a beautiful container or landscape plant that can be enjoyed for years to come.
The poinsettia is native to Mexico and is technically a shrub or small tree. The colorful flowers are actually leaves, or bracts, that surround the tiny flower in the center. Originally available in only red, now there are varieties in a wide variety of colors and patterns. One expert in the field, Dr. Jim Barrett with the University of Florida, hosts a field day each December to introduce commercial growers to the newest varieties and to evaluate consumer preferences. Dr. Barrett grows more than six thousand plants and a hundred different varieties each year for the field day in Gainesville.
Poinsettias are easy to care for until the end of winter in their container, as long as you remember that they are tropical. They need to be kept from freezing and cold drafts and grown in a well-lit area. Be careful not to let them dry out too much, but don’t overwater either. After the cold temperatures have passed they will need to be repotted or transplanted to the landscape, where they can grow just fine outdoors here in Central Florida. Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are non-poisonous and non-toxic, but they do contain a sap that some people may be sensitive to.
Poinsettias grow best in a location that receives full sun. In order to form flower buds and colorful bracts next fall, poinsettias require 14 hours of complete darkness a day. So avoid planting near porch and street lights. Keep the soil moist (but not soaking wet) and fertilize lightly once a month during the growing season. Poinsettias should be pruned during the months that begin with an A (April and August). By April the spent flowers and bracts should be trimmed off and in August your plant should be shaped and any leggy, diseased, or bug chewed branches should be removed. Poinsettias can get a few insect pests or diseases during the summer, but they are generally problem free. Most insects can be controlled with an insecticidal soap product, and diseases can be minimized by keeping the plant’s foliage dry and not watering too late in the day. Many people have former holiday poinsettias that thrive in their yards and create a very attractive shrub that blooms close to the holidays every year.
For more information, contact UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County at 16110 Aviation Loop Drive, Brookville 34604. Telephone: 352-754-4433. Office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. UF/IFAS Extension in Hernando County is a free service that provides solutions for your life. Extension programs are open to all persons without regard to race, color, sex, age, disability, religion, or national origin.