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Bill Starr: Make poinsettias last longer than holidays

Our office just completed a fundraiser for 4-H selling poinsettias; it sure was nice to have them in the office for a day making our office look like a greenhouse.
Not too many years ago, poinsettias were like the first cars available in America: you could get any color car you wanted as long as it was black. Poinsettias used to be same way; you could get any color you wanted as long as it was red. That is no longer true for cars as well as poinsettias. Now poinsettias are available in wide array of colors from the traditional red to shades of yellow, pink, or white. They may even be speckled or marbled depending on the variety. There are over 100 varieties of poinsettias available.
Poinsettias are one of the most popular potted plants sold. Over $200 million worth of poinsettias are sold each year. One unique characteristic of poinsettias is that the red “flowers” aren’t actually flowers at all. The true flower of the plant is the small yellow flower in the center of the red color. The spectacular red, flower-like arrangements are the plant’s bracts or leaves.
Poinsettias are always thought of as Christmas plants because of their festive holiday colors. But they can be enjoyed for years if you take care of them properly. Keeping a poinsettia alive is a secret a lot of people are not aware of. Most people, myself included, usually place them in the trash shortly after all the Christmas packaging. If you are up for a challenge, this year’s poinsettia could become part of your holiday decorations for next year.
After all the Christmas decorations have all been put away, treat the poinsettia like any other house plant. Place the plant near a sunny window, but make sure it’s not close to a door or heat vent where drafts of either cool or warm air may reach the plant. Try to maintain the temperature close to 70 degrees F. Where you keep the plant from New Year’s to September really doesn’t matter as long as it gets light and proper watering. Don’t over water or under water.
The tricky part of poinsettias comes after September. In order to flower, the plant needs the same amount of darkness nature provides. In order to bloom, the plant needs eight to 10 weeks of short days. Each short day should include no more than 12 hours of sunlight. Starting Oct. 1, keep the plant in complete darkness at night for 14 continuous hours. At night move the plant to a dark room or closet or cover it every night with a large box. According to David Berle, a professor at the University of Georgia, any type of light such as a porch light or even a flashlight can disturb the booming process. If there is any flash of light, you can forget it.
Once the plant begins turning the bright red they are known for, there is no turning back. Because it is so easy to break the period of darkness, most people just find it easier to purchase a new plant each year. (That is what I do.) If you are up for a challenge, I would encourage you to try to maintain your beautiful holiday poinsettias until next year. Make a new year’s resolution and take on something very challenging for the New Year: make a pledge you will make this year’s poinsettia last until Christmas 2019.

Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension coordinator and ANR Agent. Contact him at 229-924-4476.