The Perfect Poinsettia

If not for Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico, introducing Euphorbia pulcherrima to the United States in 1825, our decked halls would look quite different. Perhaps there would be offerings such as Sedum pernium like “Dragon’s Blood” or red roses festooning stocking-draped mantels? And while there are now over 100 cultivated varieties of Poinsettias around the world from white, yellow, green and orange to choose from, it is the festive and brilliant Scarlett colored cultivars that we cherish most. Minister Poinsett, however, is not the only one to thank. It was also through the diligent work of the Ecke family of Southern California who helped introduce Poinsettia’s on a wide commercial scale. The family patriarch Albert Ecke first began cultivating Poinsettias in Eagle Rock, California in the early 1900’s. As a matter of fact, it was the work of Albert Ecke’s son Paul Ecke, who found through careful selection and the grafting of two different varieties together that we now enjoy such a small yet robust shrub. In their endemic environment within the deciduous tropical forests of southern Mexico and Central America, they typically grow tall and lanky with a smaller leaf.

If you’re planning on garnering a number of mylar wrapped potted poinsettias around the house for the season, here are a few tips to help them keep their vigor. A common mistake is to overwater this plant which prefers well drained soil and this is particularly problematic when the pot is wrapped because there is nowhere for excess water to drain off. If you leave the wrapping on, simply poke some holes at the base of the plant with the corresponding holes at the bottom of the pot and place on a festive dish. Also make sure that the top soil is only extremely moist to about one inch down so as to not promote root rot. Now as for feeding, while most will have been on a steady fertigation schedule from the greenhouse, due to time and subsequent waterings at the store, the limited amount of nutrients in the container will begin to leach away. Try applying a slow release plant food stake and liquid Hormex at 2mL per gallon of water for the first watering. The plant food will provide essential nutrients while the Hormex will stimulate enhanced root growth along with enhanced leaf turgor. Water only as needed and repeat the Hormex cycle every two weeks. Make sure that the plant gets ample light for at least 12 hours a day and as much darkness as possible for the other twelve (even twinkling lights can have an effect). This will give the colorful bracts the ability to continue to reproduce vivid displays.

And as the Poinsettia is no longer regional, there is also no reason to treat this annual as seasonal. Simply repot as needed (and this will be needed as Hormex will help to produce a large root-ball) and move outside after the last signs of frost. While it takes a bit of due diligence to reproduce the same store bought display, it is possible to save money by producing your own larger more robust specimens for the next holiday season. Beginning in September, allow the plant to get as much light as possible for at least ten to twelve hours a day and then complete darkness for the remaining ten to twelve hours; the colored bracts should begin to flourish after two months.

Seasons Greetings, Good Tidings and Good Gardening from the Hormex family to yours.

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