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Poinsettias are classic, traditional and can’t be beat

Years ago, we had a house in Florida. The house was painted white; it had those ugly but serviceable metal awnings, which were white with a red stripe on either side.
The house had red poinsettias planted across the front. They were cut back when blooming was over, and continued to grow back until the first of July, when they were cut back again, but only half way down the stalks.
As the days began to grow shorter in October and November, the leaves on the poinsettias began to turn red along the edges. Then, as the calendar edged toward December, the poinsettias turned brilliant and strikingly red.
What a sight, all the 5-to-6-feet-tall and 10-feet-long row of bushy and bright poinsettias in full bloom all through the holidays.
They began to fade and lose their leaves around Valentine’s Day. That is when poinsettias were cut back to about 10-inches tall to begin their growth cycle again.
Men who were out of work would walk the neighborhoods and gather the trimmings piled at the curb. They would cut stalks into lengths about 10-inches long, touching the ends of the cuttings with sandy soil to prevent the white milky contents from weeping out of the cuttings.
The men would then make bundles of perhaps ten cuttings and sell them door to door. One bundle would cost 20 cents, quite a bargain even back then.
The poinsettia is still my favorite Christmas flower.
Now, we go to most any store and purchase the size we wish. Of course those in Florida grew in full sun while the poinsettias we purchase today are grown in greenhouses and come right indoors when we get them home.
Poinsettias like moist soil, bright light but not direct sunshine. They prefer a cool indoor location away from heat ventilators and enough water to maintain a moist soil.
In February, when the leaves begin to turn brown and fall and the bloom fades, we are faced with a decision to pitch the plant or to save it.
If you choose to save it, remove any foil and ribbon. Cut it back to about 6 inches, and place in the spot where it bloomed.
After the last killing frost, maybe May 15, take the plant outdoors along with amaryllis bulbs that have finished blooming, and place in a mostly shady location.
Then, as we begin to prepare houseplants for the trip indoors for the winter, about Aug. 1, bring them indoors. Give the poinsettia a nice watering and drying period, and let it rest it in a dark garage or closet, or place a cardboard box over the entire plant and keep it dark until Oct. 1.
Remove the box, place the plant in bright light, but no sunshine, and give it a little water and fertilizer. The plant should begin to produce color in the leaves and may be in full bloom for Christmas.
This process is simple and easy. Just for fun, give it a try. Happy gardening to everyone!

Jeanne Cope is a freelance garden writer and UT Lifetime Master Gardener. Visit her at or by email at [email protected]