Grow Poinsettias for next Christmas

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Grow Poinsettias

for next

Christmas
By D. Leeth

The real gardener derives his

satisfaction from his ability to nurse plants

along every step of their growth to their ultimate

flowering glory. However, the greatest thrill

is enjoyed by those who have succeeded in coaxing

bloom from one of the plants considered difficult

for the average gardener. Such a plant is the

poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). Actually

it really isn’t hard to grow, even though it can

be tempera mental.

There is one feature about this

traditional Christmas flower that sets it apart

from many other holiday flowers. Barring neglect

or accident, it will always be in full bloom for

Christmas in the latitude of New York City without

the gardener’s having to resort to any special

treatment, provided the plant does not receive

any light in addition to natural daylight.

The two most important factors

in the successful flowering of poinsettias, and

those, which make it temperamental, are temperature

and humidity. The temperature must be as uniform

as possible and must never drop below 60°F.

The humidity should be kept high-60 to 70 per

cent. This is higher than it is possible to maintain

in the average home so extra provisions may have

to be made such as setting the pot on a tray filled

with moist coke. Of course, if you have a greenhouse,

which you run at 60°-65°F., the problem

is much simpler.

Poinsettias are grown from cuttings.

These are taken from stock plants, which are carried

bone, dry over the winter. These can be plants

you get from your friends at Christmas. Place

them in a dark, cool cellar where they will dry

out and become dormant. Watch out for mildew while

the plants are dormant; if it shows up as a white

or brown powder, dust with sulfur. In April cut

the plants back to a point just above one of the

dormant buds on the stem.

Repot in new soil, water thoroughly,

and place in full sunlight. I use the same soil

for all stages of poinsettia growth, made up of

equal parts of compost and sandy topsoil sifted

together with several handfuls of superphosphate

added to each bushel of mixture. I add a shovelful

each of sand and peatmoss to each six shovelfuls

of the first mixture.

A better practice is to wait

until late July or early August to take cuttings,

and then, after the rooted cuttings are 6 to 8

inches tall, they can be potted up (three to an

8-inch bulb pan) and grown without any pinching.

There is no trick to preparing

cuttings. Cut the tip 4 to 6 inches with a sharp

knife. A white, sticky juice will exude from the

cut ends, but if the cuttings are immediately

dipped in a root hormone powder and placed firmly

in moist rooting medium, they will suffer little

setback. Many rooting media are recommended for

propagating poinsettia cuttings, but I have had

the best success with washed mason’s or builder’s

sand.

Before long new growth will appear

and cuttings may be taken any time after the shoots

are 6 inches long. The earlier the cuttings are

rooted the taller will be the blooming plants.

Cuttings taken any time up to the middle of June

should receive a soft pinch-removal of the top

half inch of terminal growth-when the plants are

about 1 foot high. In no case should plants be

pinched after the first of September or the resultant

new growth will be too short to make a well-shaped

flowering plant. Each of the two or more shoots

developing from the soft pinch will produce a

flower, but obviously the more flowers per plant

the smaller each will be. The taller plants produced

from early cuttings also have a bad habit of losing

their lower leaves.

The first two weeks are the most

critical in the life of the poinsettia. It is

here that the high humidity is needed to prevent

leaf wilt. Some growers invert large glass jars

over the cuttings, but I prefer to keep the cuttings

uncovered in a propagating bench in the greenhouse,

automatically watered from below.

The cuttings should be removed

when a good root system has developed and then

the plants should be firmly potted in 3-inch pots.

While the plants are getting established I like

to bury the pots up to the rim in sand kept moist

by the same system used in the propagating bench.

Another method I have used to obtain the same

moist conditions is to place the pot containing

the plant in the next-sized pot and filling the

space between the pots with sphagnum moss. If

the moss is kept damp the plants will never dry

out, nor will they be water soaked. You can also

bury the pots outdoors in a protected and partially

shaded spot in the garden, but check ever so often

to see that the roots do not grow through the

drainage hole.

As soon as more roots have developed,

shift to a 4-inch pot, or use three plants to

an 8-inch bulb pan. I believe poinsettias, like

many other vigorous growing shrubs, bloom better

when pot-bound; so I make this final shift by

the middle of October and keep the amount of new

soil added down to a minimum. Extra food can be

supplied by using your favorite liquid or dry

plant food at biweekly intervals after the plants

are established in their final pots.

Tall plants will require staking

and tying to keep the stems straight, but even

the smaller plants will be shaped better if, small

bamboo or metal stakes are placed alongside each

stem. Either pieces of pipe cleaner or paper-covered

wire plant ties can be used to tie the stems to

the stake.

If you have grown your plants

outdoors all summer, bring them in the house early,

before the temperature drops below 60° F,

and while the air in the house is still quite

humid. Use. a watertight, coke-filled tray with

the pots resting on a platform above the coke

to increase the humidity about the plants. Better

still, if you have a special room for houseplants

with a good sun exposure, purchase a fan-type

humidifier and you will find the air more healthful

for both the plants and your family.

By the first of December the

top leaves will begin to turn red. Incidentally,

the red leaves are not the flowers, but are merely

colored leaf bracts, which surround the tiny flowers.

Also, while red is the traditional poinsettia

color, they may be had in white or pink. After

Christmas, withhold water gradually and start

the cycle again.

 


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