Gardening ideas from Evelyn: A few pointers on the poinsettia

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The holidays highlight that most famous yuletide plant of all, the poinsettia.

Here’s some fun history that you might not know. The original Albert Ecke family was from Germany and ran a vegetarian health spa. They wanted to leave Germany for someplace that would have lots of fresh fruits and vegetables available all the year. Their planned destination? The Fiji islands. Luckily for all of us, they landed in Los Angeles first and found plenty of fruits and vegetables all year. They also found the poinsettia, and the family helped turn it into one of the world’s most popular household plants for the holidays, with a base right here in Encinitas.

Here are some tips for success with poinsettias:

Tip No. 1: Buy a good, fresh plant that has been grown locally. A poinsettia that has traveled hundreds of miles in a box may look fine, but it will not last as long.

Tip No. 2: Watering is the key. Don’t let your poinsettia go dry and wilt. If this happens, most of the leaves will fall off. I see more dry, wilted plants than too wet ones.

Tip No. 3: Make sure your poinsettia plant can drain and will not be sitting in water. Roots sitting in water will drown, and without good roots, your plant will go downhill.

Tip No. 4: Water regularly. On average, you should water the most common 6-inch potted poinsettia about twice a week, a 4-inch plant three times a week and a larger 8-inch or 10-inch plant maybe once a week. If it’s hot and sunny, your plants need more water. If it’s colder or darker, your plant will use less water. Let your fingers do the testing.

Tip No. 5: It’s easy to water with ice cubes. Ice cubes melt slowly so all the water is absorbed. I tested it, and eight of my ice cubes make about two-thirds of a cup of water. This is just about right for a 6-inch plant. For smaller or larger sizes, you will need to adjust the water or the number of ice cubes.

Tip No. 6: Making your plant last is a matter of pruning and choice. The little yellow things in the center are the real flowers. Remove them when they fade so they don’t mold. The colored bracts that we call flowers are modified leaves and will stay on and look good for months. If your plant looks fine and you don’t want to make it bloom next year, just go ahead and enjoy those red flowers all the way into summer. If you want your plant to grow and bloom next year, be sure to cut the flowers off by St. Patrick’s Day. Your plant will not start growing until you do that.

Interesting fact: What does “pinched poinsettia” mean? You hear “6-inch pinched” or “8-inch pinched.” What is that, and how do we get so many flowers on a single plant? When the plant is very young, it is just one straight-up stem. At a certain point, when the poinsettia is about 6 inches high, we pinch out the growing tip, and that makes branches come out from the stem below. Each of those little branches will grow up and have what we call a flower on the tip.

For more information on being successful with your poinsettia, take the free “Behind the Scenes Poinsettia Tours” at Weidner’s Gardens on Nov. 19 and 20.

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