Poinsettia thriving in backyard
Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 11:07 p.m.
When Elaine Mock called to tell me about her poinsettia plant, I have to admit to experiencing some doubt.
A former holiday gift plant that was growing at the corner of her house with flowers the size of dinner plates?
Usually when these grow in the ground here, they revert to leggy plants with puny flowers, or at least flowers that are a mere shadow of their former decorative selves.
But she was right. The bushy poinsettia is about 6 feet tall and maybe half as wide, and indeed, the flowers are not only dinner-plate size, but they retained their "doubleness" and dark red color.
Mock said she received the small potted plant two or three years ago and decided to plant it on the southwest corner of her Woodland Terrace home.
Last year the frost cut it back, but it regrew and stayed a deep, dark green all through the summer and fall, presenting her with scarlet bracts right after Christmas.
While there is no real direct light at night, the plant wasn't shielded from street lights during the bract-formation period.
One unusual aspect of her plant is bract formation all the way down some of the larger stems.
She admits to not really doting on the plant, but then, she's probably got one of those natural green thumbs.
For instance, a Professor Sargent camellia in front of the home she's lived in for more than 30 years was literally covered with the bright red flowers.
She also does "nothing special" to keep it in prime health.
If you still have a poinsettia plant hanging around the house, porch or patio (and it survived Monday night's freeze) here is a roadmap on how to keep it growing, where to plant it in the yard and what you can do to prompt it to bloom for you next Christmas.
When the leaves are all off and the plants are definitely on their decline (the red bracts will persist for months), trim the branches back and cut the "trunk" down by half.
You can choose to keep the plants in large containers, or plant in a sheltered area outdoors when the weather is reliably warm.
The sunnier it is, the bushier the plants will grow.
Too much shade produces leggy growth.
Starting around May or June, when the plants are actively growing, begin pinching to encourage branching.
Whenever a branch gets 12 inches long, trim back to behind the first three leaves.
Continue each time the subsequent new branching growth gets a foot long.
Poinsettias are not heavy feeders, but apply a general houseplant fertilizer at least once a month during active growth.
They like moist soil, but not soggy; apply water before the leaves turn limp.
In September, stop pinching.
Around Thanksgiving or later, the color will begin to show on the bracts.
While light manipulation is a surefire way to get color exactly when you want it, it's hard to provide the 12-13 hours of complete darkness starting in October.
Night-time temperatures play as large a part in flower formation as hours of darkness.
SUBHEAD IN COPY
Here is a suggested "calendar" for re-blooming your poinsettias:
Apply an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer, water as needed, and keep the plant in bright light.
Remove faded and dried parts.
Prune to 5-12 inches above the soil (or halfway down)
St. Patrick's Day
Repot, preferably a sterile mix from a garden center mixed with builder's sand.
Keep in a bright location indoors, or area outdoors that is shaded in the afternoon
The poinsettia could be nearing 3 feet tall.
Trim 2 to 3 inches off branches to encourage side branching.
Repot to a larger container.
Fourth of July
Trim the plant again.
Keep in filtered sunlight and slightly increase fertilizer.
Root cuttings now, if you want more plants.
The plant may be tall, perhaps approaching 5 feet by this time (or more, depending on if you pruned it)
First day of fall
On or near Sept. 21, give the plant 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness and 11 hours of bright light each day.
Keep night temperatures in the low 70s.
Continue watering and fertilizing.
Rotate the plant daily so that all sides receive light.
Discontinue day/night treatment.
Place in a sunny area.
Reach Marina Blomberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 374-5025.
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