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Poinsettias get chance to show long-term charms

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Published:   |   Updated: March 23, 2013 at 08:55 PM

I've always had a tendency to lump poinsettias into a category with other popular Christmas gift plants, such as holiday cacti, amaryllis, paperwhites and orchids. Even if they never bloom again, I tell myself, they're worth the investment, because they're so beautiful and last much longer than cut flowers.

Of course, they all will bloom again, if you give them the proper care. It's really more a matter of deciding if they're worth the effort.

And poinsettias do take some effort, especially if you want to put them into the ground. Lazy gardener confession: Because they're so heavily identified with Christmas and so inexpensive, I usually just toss them when the season is done.

But I've decided to make it a challenge this year to keep my poinsettias alive as shrubs, and to enjoy the blooms outside on Christmas 2010. (There's a house on my street with some planted near the curb, and they are gorgeous.)

Like most tropical plants (and these are tropicals, brought to the United States from Mexico), poinsettias don't do well in a frost or freeze. So the plan is to keep them in the pots until the danger of frost is past. I'll move them from the house to a sunny spot on the lanai, and then get them out into the yard and eventually into the ground.

That's where things get tricky, I'm told. Poinsettias need sun, but not too much, especially during our super-hot summers. And they'll have to go in my backyard, where there isn't any artificial light. The plants won't form blooms next year if they aren't in total darkness for 14 hours every day starting around mid-September and lasting until they start to flower. Some people even go so far as to cover the plants with dark cloth at night and remove the cloth every morning.

I'm not going to go that far - I'm lucky to find time to water all of my plants - but I'm eager to see how well the poinsettias do in the wilds of my garden. If all goes well, I'll have some nice, compact and colorful bushes out back this time next year. And they're supposed to be easy to propagate, so my friends (ahem, Penny) might get some poinsettias from me next year.


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