Poinsettias for holiday color

West Hawaii Today
By Norman Bezona –

The holiday season usually begins with Halloween and extends to Easter, but this year’s COVID-19 pandemic means we need to be careful of gatherings like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Perhaps a safer endeavor would be to focus on our gardens!

Although it finally feels like fall, and we have been seeing Christmas decorations in some stores even before Halloween, the Christmas Holidays don’t seem real until we get our Thanksgiving meal digested. Thanksgiving is less than four weeks away, but the weather has been weird. This year was particularly confusing since we have record warm temperatures and the poinsettias are beginning to bloom.

Poinsettias especially in Kona, Kau and Kohala will soon be in spectacular color. Although mainland folks think of the poinsettia as a Christmas flower, for us it blooms from November through March. So if you don’t have a showy supply garden, it will soon be time to see them on the market.

Purchasing potted stock from a garden center or nursery is the easiest way to establish plantings of the holiday ornamental. However, some green thumb operators scavenge the neighborhood for hardwood cuttings when fellow gardeners prune their poinsettias following the flowering season. Getting plants this way can make you feel like a turkey if you choose cuttings from disease infected plants. If you get healthy plants, you can be sure to avoid “fowl” play.

There are a number of poinsettias available. They come in traditional reds or you can enjoy color combinations indoors and in the garden if you mingle the red plantings with white and pink varieties. Since poinsettias give color from now through March, incorporating plants into the garden design will brighten things up for more than just the holiday season.

Poinsettias will grow on a wide range of soils, including sand, rocky soil and clay. In spite of the wide adaptability, the plants will present you a better show of color if you take proper care of them.

In massed beds, fertilizer application is important. An application of fertilizer in August should now be producing large colorful bracts. The plants need repeat applications of plant food in early spring, again in June and perhaps during mid-summer if there are heavy rains.

For best results, prune poinsettias back in late winter or early spring after blooming is over. Cut them back to within 12 to 18 inches of the ground.

You’ll find that a compact plant will furnish more color than a plant with few unbranched stalks. To promote a riot of colored bracts, prune the plants several times during the growing season. Nip the new growth back after it is 12 inches long, leaving four leaves on each shoot. Be sure to stop the pruning in early September, because the flowering buds are set in early October.

Poinsettias show their color according to the day length and temperature. A plant near a lighted window or a street light often refuses to flower like a neighboring plant in a nearby darker corner. Dreary skies in September and early October will shorten the days causing plants to set buds and flower before the holiday season.

You will find that temperature is a limiting factor for a good show of flowers. If the night temperatures are much above 70 degrees, bud formation will be retarded. Freak periods of hot weather during this critical time may not permit buds to form at all. The best flower development is when the night temperatures range from 60 to 68 degrees.

For plants in your garden, one problem to watch for now are mites. Dryer conditions are ideal for this pest. Spraying with a miticide will take care of the little stinkers. If you want to avoid sprays, sprinkling the leaves daily with the garden hose is helpful. This will also minimize whitefly attacks. Avoid sprinkling in the heat of the day or in early evening.

Poinsettias may be used as cut flowers if the stems are treated to coagulate the milky sap and reduce wilting. As soon as the flowers are cut, immerse the cut ends in hot water for about a minute. Then place them in cold water. Be sure that the steaming water does not damage the bracts.

An alternate method of halting the oozing sap is to singe the cut ends of the stem over a flame for a couple of seconds and then place the stems in cold water. For best results and longer lasting beauty, cut the poinsettias about 18 hours before they are to be used in an arrangement. Store the cut “flowers” in a cool, draft-free place during the waiting stage.

If you want to experiment with this year’s potted plant, don’t toss it out when the last leaf drops. The plant will show brilliant color next Christmas season if you follow these tips. First, store the pot, plant and all, in an out of the way place. This treatment is intended to force the plant to hibernate during the cool days while the shriveling top feeds the sleeping roots.

Only water the plant to keep it from getting bone dry. Avoid giving it fertilizer. Try storing the sleeping plant in the shady corner of the carport.

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