Poinsettias, pines and presents

Christmas is right around the corner and shoppers are out in record numbers. Folks are almost obsessed with getting their trees, poinsettias and gifts for family and friends. If you enjoy giving living plants for Christmas, consider giving poinsettias.

Last week, Russell Nagata wrote about the history of poinsettias. Today, let’s focus on purchase, propagation and care of this amazing plant.

Poinsettias, especially in Kona, are in spectacular color now. Although mainland folks think of the poinsettia as a Christmas flower, for us it blooms from late October through March. So if you don’t have a showy supply in your home and garden, now’s the time to start looking for 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, missing plants in the garden 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 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 will 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 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 pruning in early September, because the flowering buds are set in early October.

Poinsettias show their color according to day length and temperature. A plant near a lighted window or a street light often refuses to color up 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’ll find temperature is a limiting factor for a good show of flowers. If night temperatures are much above 70 degrees, bud forming 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 night temperatures range from 60 to 68 degrees. This year has been ideal with cool temperatures bringing about a riot of color.

For plants in your garden, one problem to watch for now are mites. Drier 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 evening.

Poinsettias can 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 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 steps:

– Store the pot, plant and all in an out of the way place. This treatment is intended to rest the plant during 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 a shady corner of the carport.

– Toward the end of February, tenderly awake the plant by cutting off the dead top. You can grow the new plant in last season’s pot, but the poinsettia will be happier if you set it in the ground where it can flex its roots better than in the confines of a pot. Make sure you plant it where it will get lots of sun and well-drained soil.

Another great gift idea is giving a living Norfolk pine Christmas tree. It may then be used as a houseplant for several years to come, or it may be planted in the garden. This lovely little conifer may reach heights of 80 feet or more so don’t plant it too close to the house. Some folks keep the trees in check by harvesting the tops every three years to supply their own cut trees. By leaving stumps with two or three tiers of branches, they will resprout to supply future cut trees.

Some folks have even had good luck regrowing the cut tops. Lateral branches may also be used. Trees propagated in this manner grow horizontally instead of vertical, which is kind of bizarre.

West Hawaii Today – Features > Poinsettias, pines and presents

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