Back in the day, rumors and myths used to spread slowly until they grew into commonly accepted truths. We can look back at that time with derision, realizing how much better informed we are now. Thanks to the Internet we have the resources to rise above these foolish traditions and be truth seekers.
All of which sounds noble in theory, but in practice we often prefer to ignore our access to verification and accept random misinformation. As an example, despite years of rebuttal many still believe poinsettias to be poisonous. They are not. They also are not edible, so don’t include the leaves in your Christmas salad.
The persistence of this rumor may be in part due to poinsettias being related to some plants that are toxic. But being related to something toxic doesn’t make you toxic. At least that’s what I tell myself when witnessing familial behavior at holiday gatherings. Although some still assume they are dangerous, poinsettias continue to be a Christmas favorite — and thanks to extensive breeding, have become much more durable.
If you follow two simple guidelines you can keep your poinsettias looking good until the last piece of tinsel is vacuumed out of the carpet.
1) Protect from cold. Don’t transport poinsettias outside without a sleeve (the wrappers they are usually sold with); this is especially important in keeping the cold, dry Magic Valley wind off of them. Don’t leave them in an unheated car for more than just a few minutes; poinsettias will be damaged if exposed to temperatures below 40 degrees. They will tolerate 40 degrees for a short time but prefer temperatures of at least 60 degrees.
2) Watch the water. Most poinsettias come with a pot cover that keeps them from dripping water onto your table or floor. However, don’t allow water to stay in the bottom of this cover for over 30 minutes. Depending on the temperature of the room they are displayed in, poinsettias should be watered one to three times a week; usually every four to five days is enough. It’s OK if the soil surface becomes slightly dry, but don’t allow the soil to become any dryer than that.
After the New Year I recommend putting the stale sugar cookies and the poinsettia in the same place, the garbage.
Some people have successfully re-bloomed a poinsettia for the following Christmas, but then some people have climbed mountains over 20,000 feet. In my opinion both of these projects have costs far outweighing the benefits. To get a poinsettia to re-bloom on schedule you need to provide 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness each night and bright light for the other 10 hours. And you need to do this faithfully for six to eight weeks starting Oct. 1.
I have never tried to get a poinsettia to bloom at home, but then I have never tried performing heart surgery at home either.
After working for years in commercial greenhouses in Idaho and Utah, Susan Harris of Shoshone is a garden designer and garden coach. Reach her at email@example.com.