jump to navigation

Keep your Christmas plants alive. December 7, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, pets.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were determined to get some poinsettias and cyclamen for our mantel and Christmas table yesterday. We didn’t want anything fancy—just two white cyclamen and two scarlet poinsettias for our mantel, and one large red poinsettia and two smaller white poinsettias for our Christmas table. We’ve found that the mantel plants are perfect with our Christmas tree with its red balls and twinkly white lights, and the kitchen table is too small for anything more elaborate than our poinsettias and two red candles.

As we were driving back from another classic display, the Goschenhoppen Historians’ Christmas market, we passed a small greenhouse that had been on the road from Green Lane to Red Hill just about forever. It was a classic mom-and-pop operation, its signs said it was open, and one of them said they grew their own poinsettias, a real rarity in this age when most greenhouses, groceries and the like buy theirs as “plugs” (started plants) from one or two enormous poinsettia greenhouses. Silence and I screeched to a halt, turned around, and returned to the little greenhouse.

It was a horrible, cold, drizzly, miserable day, the kind where you just can’t wait to get back inside and crank up the heat or turn up the fire. No wonder we were the only customers, and Grandma was the only person minding the store. But the plants were gorgeous, and Grandma was full of good, easy advice for keeping them healthy. Since we only bought the cyclamen and poinsettias, this is what she told us:

To keep cyclamen fresh and healthy, don’t water them until the soil is dry. The leaves may wilt, but the second you water them, they’ll perk up and the plant will look beautiful, including those gorgeous patterned leaves. Choose plants with plenty of buds coming on (look at the base inside the leaves), and you’ll have gorgeous blooms continuing through Easter.

As for poinsettias, Grandma said the only thing that could make them wilt was to overwater them. We’ve heard that before, too: That you can kill poinsettias by overwatering them, but otherwise, you’ll enjoy them through the summer. Our small white poinsettias (free from our local bank last Christmas) lasted through the summer. Who’s to know what these will do? Let us know how yours hold up.

Advertisements

Post-Christmas poinsettia care. January 5, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

If you’re like our friend Ben and Silence Dogood, you probably have a poinsettia or two (or, in our case, seven) around the house after Christmas. And, while you might not be ambitious enough to try to rebloom your poinsettias next holiday season (this requires a lot of effort and expertise), you also might want, like us, to keep your plants gorgeous and thriving as long as possible.

Here are some tips to prolong your poinsettias’ life and attractiveness:

* Consider the source. Poinsettias are tropical shrubs, native to Mexico, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. We think of them as disposable seasonal annuals, but these hardy perennial plants bloom in winter in the U.S. because it’s their normal bloom season (summer) where they’re native.

* Consider the more immediate source. Our Christmas poinsettias have been very carefully raised under specific light, humidity, heat, and fertilizer regimens in commercial greenhouses. Then suddenly, they’re in your house, with typically low light, cooler temps, and extremely dry winter air. Surprise! They’re not happy.

* Don’t overwater. If you’ve ever tried growing poinsettias before, you’ll probably have noticed the awful tendency the plants have to drop shriveled or even fresh leaves and colorful bracts (the things neophytes think are flowers, but are really colored leaves; the flowers are the tiny yellow knobs in the center of the so-called petals). To prolong your poinsettia’s life, let the soil dry in the pot before watering, and don’t water so heavily that the plant sits in water. This will kill your plant faster than anything short of leaving it outside in freezing temperatures.

* Give them light. We’re talking about tropical plants here, not to mention plants raised in high-light conditions in greenhouses. Instead of placing them where they’ll add the most decorative accents to your house, why not give them as much light as possible during the day, then placing them in their decorative positions at night. You’ll both be happy.

* How long will they live? If you follow all the tips for poinsettia care I’ve listed, you’ll have a lot less leaf and bract (the colored “flower” leaves) drop than you would otherwise. If you have the patience, I’d recommend coaxing your poinsettias along through the cold months, then setting them out on your deck or patio with your other container plants. You’ll get some handsome plants for your minimal effort. But I don’t recommend trying to rebloom them. Far better to start with new plants every year.

Poinsettia pointers. December 21, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , ,
1 comment so far

The title of this post could have been “Bless Our Bank.” Our tiny local bank is an unmixed blessing. All the tellers know our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and our black German shepherd, Shiloh, by sight and by name, and always ask how Shiloh and our gardens are doing. This time of year, the bank puts out an assortment of free wall and pocket calendars for its customers, not to mention homemade cookies. It always has free pens, colorful displays by local businesses (often including discount coupons), a pickup site for food bank donations, and our favorite, a fundraiser for cancer-stricken pets and people featuring photos of tellers’ and customers’ pets, including, of course, Shiloh.

Why our friend Ben is going on about our bank in a post on poinsettias is that, when Silence and I dropped by the bank yesterday to see if we still had two cents to our name, they offered us a free poinsettia. A nice, healthy, sizeable poinsettia, and we could choose from five different colors. Since we already had red poinsettias at home, we chose a rather eccentric one, half white and half red with white flecks, to add to the display. Our friend Ben admits that it was not perhaps the most aesthetic choice, but we loved it and hey, it was free! Thank you, Fleetwood Bank.

Around Christmas, we always get a lot of people coming on our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, to find out how to care for their poinsettias. So we’re going to repeat the most salient points from previous years’ posts on the topic to help everybody out. Basically, it’s easy to keep poinsettias happy and healthy. As long as you give them light, keep their soil evenly moist, and keep them warm, you’ll enjoy them all winter, and all spring as well if you keep them. 

Here’s a bit more detail:

Poinsettias aren’t poisonous. This is an urban legend that’s been around since 1919. Here’s the truth: Like other euphorbias (the botanical name of poinsettia is Euphorbia pulcherrima), the milky latex sap of poinsettias can be quite irritating to bare skin, and can cause an allergic rash in sensitive individuals if they come in direct contact with the sap. And eeewwww, who’d want to eat one, anyway. But we’ve seen our wicked indoor cats eat many a poinsettia leaf and not only survive to tell the tale but come back for more while we frantically tried to figure out how to save our plants from the living shredders.

Poinsettia flowers are leaves. ‘Fraid so. The poinsettia flowers are those little yellow clusters in the middle of the showy colored leaves, or bracts. But the good news is that (orchids being an exception), the colorful bracts last much longer than flowers, so you can enjoy your poinsettias into spring, as long as you give them some light and remember to water them.

Poinsettias aren’t cold-climate plants. Poinsettias have come to be associated with Christmas, snowy weather, and the North Pole, but the truth is, they’re native to Mexico and south to Guatemala and Nicaragua, where they’re perennial shrubs or small trees. They bloom for us at Christmas because our winter is their summer bloom time.

Poinsettias are not blue, gold, or covered with glitter. At least, not in their natural state. Thanks to plant breeders like Paul Ecke, you can find poinsettias in many colors and forms. We’ve even seen some with variegated leaves. But those blue, gold, and glittery “blossoms” have been created with spray-paint. We think it’s an atrocity to do this to a live plant. Save the fakey colors for the artificial poinsettias, please. Like Jill Masterson in “Goldfinger,” live poinsettias need to breathe.

Poinsettias make lousy cut flowers. That’s why you never see them offered as cut flowers. The milky sap doesn’t do a lot for the water in an arrangement, and the “flowers” don’t last. Keep them on the plant, where they’ll provide fresh, cheerful color for months. 

Poinsettias do come in many colors. Glitter gold may not be one of them, but we’ve seen a lot more variation in “bloom” color than classic red, white and pink. There’s a fabulous glowing orange-scarlet poinsettia, perhaps the Tangerine Tango shade the Pantone people have declared the “in” color for 2012.  We’ve seen poinsettias that were white with pink edges, pink-and-white variegated, red with white flecks, deep velvet maroon, maroon with pink and white spots, even varieties with variegated foliage. There are also varieties in several colors with crumpled “blooms” that we think are hideous, but others clearly don’t share our view, since we see more of them every year. (One friend saw them and rapturously exclaimed, “Oh! They look just like roses!”)

Poinsettia care is easy as 1-2-3. It’s easy to keep your poinsettias looking glorious for months on end (assuming, ahem, you can keep your cats from shredding them) if you remember the three simple secrets of poinsettia care: First, don’t keep them in a dark place. Poinsettias like bright morning light. When the sun heats up in the afternoon, they prefer indirect light. Second, don’t cook or freeze them. Poinsettias prefer moderate temperatures—no hotter than about 70 degrees F. and no colder than 50 degrees F. And third, don’t let them sit in water. Poinsettias like moist soil, not soggy soil and wet feet. Make sure you let the water drain away before returning them to their cachepots or displays. But don’t let them dry out, either. Evenly moist soil is your goal.

Yes, you can keep your poinsettias from year to year. This is more complicated than it sounds, however, which is why most people treat them as long-blooming annuals and buy new ones each Christmas.  To rebloom your plants, pot them up in spring in roomy pots and set them out in a lightly sunny to partially shaded site. (Some people plant them in their garden beds for the growing season and dig them up each fall, but we don’t think the transplant shock is worth it. Ours do fine in pots on our shady deck.)  Give them some liquid seaweed and/or other organic fertilizers, and keep them watered but not overwatered. That’s all there is to it until  about 2 months before you want them to come into bloom.

At that point, bring them inside. Then, every night, put them in a cool closet or other absolutely dark place for 12 hours every night. To initiate bract color (“bloom”), a poinsettia must have uninterrupted darkness. Even someone briefly opening the door to let in a sliver of light will disrupt the cycle. But of course the plants will die if kept in a closet or other dark place for two months, so you must bring them back into the light each day, then return them to darkness every night.

Not only is this more work than most people are willing to go through for a relatively inexpensive plant, but the plant will never again look as good as it did that first year you bought it. That’s because the plant will have grown leggy over the summer. The leaves will be tiny, and so will the colorful “blooms” if you succeed in bringing it back into bloom. In other words, your beloved poinsettia will never look as good as it did the Christmas you bought it.

We suggest taking good care of your poinsettia and enjoying its colorful display while it lasts. We think its greenery adds interest to our summer and fall deck display. But when cold weather arrives, we think it’s time to say goodbye. Your compost pile will thank you. (But please, don’t compost glitter-coated poinsettias! Ouch.) Then buy an old favorite or choose a new one from the many varieties available, and prepare to enjoy it for another year.

PA treats, toys, and poinsettias. December 3, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Our friend Ben would like to encourage folks in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and environs to attend two fun and unique Christmas displays this weekend. They’re among Silence Dogood’s and my favorite holiday outings.

First is the Glick’s Greenhouse Poinsettia Show in Oley, PA. Now, before you wonder if our friend Ben has lost my mind, suggesting that you trek over to a Berks County greenhouse to look at poinsettias, this is not just any greenhouse or any old poinsettia display. The huge greenhouses have attracted thousands of visitors on this weekend for 31 years, for live music, free food (including hot popcorn, hot dogs with all the trimmings, and beverages, including, of course, cider), themed wreaths and decorations (this year’s theme is “Once upon a Christmas, the timeless and treasured stories of Christmas”), and more than 10,000 poinsettias, all in perfect condition and beautifully displayed.

Our friend Ben is especially looking forward to the themed wreath display, hoping that many contestants will have chosen my favorite Christmas story, Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, and Clement Clarke Moore’s The Night Before Christmas as their themes. (Wreaths are entered and judged for ribbons from all over the area, and they’re always amazingly inventive.) Horticulturists that we are, Silence and I always enjoy seeing the newest poinsettias on the market as well as the lovely old classics as we pass through the poinsettia displays.

But the thing we love best—the reason we can’t resist the Glick’s extravaganza—is their own beautiful Christmas wreaths. We have never seen nicer wreaths anywhere, and it’s become a Hawk’s Haven tradition to go to Glick’s for the show and buy our Christmas wreath. This year, Silence is agitating for a Norfolk Island pine to replace our huge, beloved one that finally died several years ago. It made a great Christmas tree and lived practically forever, so we may succumb to one this year at Glick’s as well.

Will we buy one of the famous poinsettias? Maybe. Unfortunately, our cats can’t seem to resist them, and while poinsettias aren’t actually poisonous—that’s an urban legend—a chewed-up poinsettia isn’t exactly decorative.

To find out more and get directions, visit Glick’s website (www.glicksgreenhouse.com) or call them at 610-689-9856. They’re on 57 Fisher Mill Road, and Silence, who was in the area with a friend recently, says there’s excellent signage pointing people towards Glick’s on all the area roads. The show runs today, Friday, December 3, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 6; they’re closed on Sunday.

The other event Silence and our friend Ben make it a point never to miss is The Christmas Market, presented in Green Lane, PA (Montgomery County, down Route 29) by the Goschenhoppen Historians at Red Men’s Hall. Say what?!! Well, our friend Ben is not sure how Red Men’s Hall got its name, but the Goschenhoppens were an early group of Pennsylvania Dutch settlers in the area, and the Historians aim to keep their folkways alive with demonstrations of authentic old-time cooking, crafts, gardening, and skills. For the Christmas Market, however, they limit their displays and demonstrations to Christmas-themed Penna Dutch traditions. The result is utterly delightful, as well as informative.

This year’s theme is “Toys for Boys,” so expect to see Christmas train displays and other delights of yesteryear for boys (buwe in Deitsch, the language of the Pennsylvania Dutch, actually Germans) of all ages. There will be decorated Christmas trees and displays of Pennsylvania German Christmas customs and folk practices. And of course, there will be toys, vintage and new handmade ornaments, “clear toys” (colored sugar candy in fantastic forms, like reindeer, used as ornaments and stocking stuffers), and crafts for sale, as well as some gorgeous Christmas cards and fun pet presents that we always find irresistible.

Oh, and did we mention the bake sale? Our friend Ben hopes not. You see, every year, there are unbelievable baked goods for sale at the show. The Historians make them at home, and many are renowned for a particular specialty. Our friend Ben will be very disgruntled—not to say irate—if you arrive in time to buy the last lemon sponge pie or batch of Joanne’s famous hickory-nut cookies and we don’t get any.

This year’s show will be held on this Saturday and Sunday, December 4th and 5th. Find out more on their website, www.goschenhoppen.org.   

Both events are fun and, of course, family-friendly. We hope to see you there!

Can this poinsettia be saved? January 17, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , ,
7 comments

Silence Dogood here. Last week, I had lunch with my good friend Amy at one of my favorite local cafes (the Market Cafe in scenic Topton, PA). Afterwards, I took her for her first visit to my all-time-favorite bulk foods store, the Mennonite-owned Echo Hill Country Store, located in the countryside somewhere near Fleetwood, PA. (If you didn’t know how to get there, I don’t know how you’d ever find it, which is why I drove Amy over in my car. But people regularly stop by from New York and New Jersey, so they must be figuring out some way to find it.)

When I dropped Amy (and a large box of purchases) off at her car, she turned to me sheepishly. “I, uh, I know you know a lot about plants. And I have this poinsettia in the car… ” Oh, no.

Turns out that a friend gave Amy this huge, gorgeous poinsettia as a Christmas present. But she was afraid to bring it inside her house because she has cats and had heard that poinsettias are poisonous, so she just left it in the car in the sub-freezing weather. Poinsettias can’t take temperatures much colder than 50 degrees F. So, guess what? It froze. A gorgeous tropical plant was killed for nothing. Looking at the pitiful, drooping mush that had just days before been vibrant leaves and “flowers” brought a lump to my throat.

“I wondered if you thought you could bring it back to life?” she asked me. Heavy, heavy sigh. How about “I wonder if it ever occurred to you to either decline the plant, since you didn’t want it, or take it directly to the home of a friend who might actually have enjoyed it instead of letting it freeze to death?!!” I refrained from either saying that or waving my hands over the poor plant and shouting “Abracadabra!!!” but it wasn’t easy.

Let’s clear one thing up right away: Poinsettias are not poisonous. This is an urban legend. Yes, the sticky, icky, milky sap can cause skin irritation and even rashes in sensitive individuals, but only if they touch some oozing white sap from a cut leaf or stem. Yes, if your cat eats a whole bunch of leaves, s/he might throw up. (So what else is new?) My cats enjoy eating poinsettia leaves, begonia leaves, Christmas cactus segments, and any other foliage they can sink their evil little teeth into. And the foliage often makes them throw up. But the poinsettias and other plants don’t make them sick, it’s just a delightful adaptation that allows them to get the fur they lick off while grooming out of their system.

Moving on, if you haven’t frozen your poinsettia by leaving it outside or in the car or an unheated garage in freezing winter weather, you might be wondering if you can save it and bring it back into bloom next year. The answer to this is yes, you can. But you probably don’t want to.

To keep a poinsettia alive and happy, bring it into bright indirect light (such as a kitchen window) after the holidays and make sure the soil stays moist but not soggy. The plant will continue to display its colorful “flowers” (actually bracts, modified leaves) for months. Once warm weather finally arrives, look at your poinsettia’s pot. Is it big enough for the plant? If not, pot it up in good potting soil. Then set the plant outside in a sunny (but not full-sun) spot. Continue to water and feed it through the summer.

About 2 months before you want it to bloom, bring it back inside. Poinsettias need 12 hours of continuous darkness a night to initiate their colorful “bloom” displays (again, those so-called “petals” are really modified leaves, the actual blooms are the tiny yellow clusters in the center of each “flower”). In modern houses, it’s not easy to achieve 12 hours of continuous darkness. Most references suggest putting your plant in a guest closet for 12 hours each night, since hopefully no one will throw open the closet door during the dark period, then bringing it out into bright indirect light for the subsequent 12 hours.

And yes, if you do this, your poinsettia will come back into “bloom.” But will it still look good after all that effort? My experience says no. The plant will have grown leggy over the summer. The leaves will be tiny, and so will the colorful “blooms” if you succeed in bringing it back into bloom. In other words, your beloved poinsettia will never look as good as it did the Christmas you bought it.

Much as I hate to tell anyone to toss a living plant, I have to say that poinsettias don’t repay overwintering in our temperate climate. (Things are a bit different in their native Mexico and south to Guatemala and Nicaragua. There, the plants are evergreen outdoors and attain the size of shrubs.) So enjoy the display for the many months your plant is in “bloom.” Then compost it and buy a new plant next year.

         ‘Til next time,

                   Silence

Ten things you should know about poinsettias. December 7, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , , ,
7 comments

Seems like everybody was out and about Saturday seeing the Christmas-season sights, and our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were no exceptions. We dragged ourselves over to our friends Carolyn and Gary’s at an unreasonably early hour to join Carolyn and our friends Rudy and Rob on an expedition. But it was worth getting up and about a bit early to see the interesting and unusual exhibits on display!

Our first stop was at Red Men’s Hall in Green Lane, PA (if this reminds anybody else of Red Green, what can we say), where the Goschenhoppen Historians were presenting their Christmas Market and display. Their focus was on late-19th and early 20th century Pennsylvania Dutch (aka Deitsch, the local dialect for German) Christmas traditions. We went to this show and sale for the first time last year and now it’s a definite tradition for us as well. Wouldn’t miss it!

From the fabulous winter arrangements of fresh greens, berries, and dried hydrangeas and ornamental grasses enticing you up the stairs of the old building to the toy train display (Rob was riveted), the ca. 1908 Granny’s Christmas kitchen exhibit (Silence and Carolyn were getting pointers about what the Penna. Dutch set out for Santa back in the day—an attractively composed plate with animal-themed gingerbread cookies, hickory nuts, dried apple slices, aka schnitz, a fresh apple, and some brilliantly colored, elaborately molded clear rock sugar candies, the predecessors of the lollipop.)  There were an assortment of amazing wreaths and traditional trees, including a sassafras tree whose bare branches were wrapped in cotton wool (the predecessor of the cotton ball), then ornamented. 

There was also an enticing variety of Christmas and locally crafted items for sale, from vintage ornaments and toy trains to redware, old cigar boxes and tins, butter molds, Moravian paper stars, and wonderful Christmas cards capturing the highlights of the exhibits (we succumbed to these, as well as the handmade dog and cat treats and a delightful handmade felt kitty toy for the cats’ Christmas stocking).

Carolyn wandered up to the third floor to see the Goschenhoppen Historians’ museum display, but Rudy had headed off to the bake sale, and we quickly joined him. An amazing number of authentic homemade Penna. Dutch treats were available, from lemon sponge pie (we all bought one) to snickerdoodles, apie cakes, gingerbread horses, Amish vanilla pie, honey cakes, pfeffernusse, hickory nut star cookies, and zillions of others, as well as home-canned chow-chow, pickles, corn relish, and many more. The Goschenhoppen Historians continue their display and show through today, Sunday 12/7, and trust us, it’s well worth a trip if you live within range. Best of all, it’s free!

Then we were off and running to the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, PA, for their Christmas show and craft sale. Thanks to our friend Sarah, the Director of the Center, we’ve been attending this delightful show for years, and it never disappoints. That’s because the best traditional craftsmen and women in the area offer their heritage, one-of-a-kind crafts for sale there, from beautiful handmade and hand-decorated wooden boxes to quilts, redware and other handmade pottery, tin Christmas ornaments, hooked rugs, fraktur, and scherenschnitte. (Uh, say what? Fraktur is a traditional Penna. Dutch folk art of quaint hand-painted art—think of stylized birds, tulips, and hex signs—and scherenschnitte, also a regional specialty, is an unbelievably intricate craft of hand-cutting paper to make extraordinary pictures.)

The Center’s Christmas display was captivating, with an array of 19th-century toys (including our favorite, old handmade marbles). Our friend Ben succumbed to temptation and purchased an extraordinary scherenschnitte artwork of a tree in winter, its bare boughs laden with birds, for Silence’s Christmas present, and was lucky enough to have the artist, who was doing an on-site demonstration, inscribe it for her. Rob bought a lovely scherenschnitte Tree of Life by another gifted artist for his sister.

Lucky for any of you within driving distance, the show and sale continue through December 31st. There are other excellent displays as well, such as an exhibit of contemporary fraktur, and they have a truly wonderful gift shop in addition to the special show sale. Check it out on their website, www.mhep.org. It, too, is free.

Okay, about those poinsettias. Our third stop was at Glick’s Greenhouse in Oley, PA, which hosts an annual themed poinsettia show that’s simply amazing. As with the Goschenhoppen Historians’ show, last year was OFB and Silence’s first exposure to the Glick’s extravaganza, and oh lord, now we wouldn’t miss it for anything.

This year’s theme was Route 66, and Glick’s displayed, as they do every year, a massive selection of entries for their best wreath competition, all with hubcap bases. Our favorite—which, for once, actually won first prize—had applied cutout license-plate “petals” from vintage license plates  from many states along Route 66 to create a sunflower of sorts. (Hmmm, maybe they were intending to portray a poinsettia, Glick’s signature plant.) As Silence was admiring it, the guy next to her groaned loudly and said that he was a license-plate collector, and to see old license plates abused in this way was more than he could bear. Since we feel that way about cut-up books, we could relate!

Glick’s poinsettia extravaganza is not only free, they offer a variety of free live music, free popcorn and soda, and free hotdogs with Glick’s own homemade relish, homemade sauerkraut, and ketchup and mustard to ravenous customers like Rudy and Rob. And this year, besides the hubcap wreaths, they had a shiny red antique truck with its bed full of poinsettias, as well as plenty of other Route 66-themed displays. (Our friend Ben and Silence want that truck.)

And the plants and their prices can’t be beat. You can buy about bazillion kinds of poinsettias in all sizes and price ranges, healthy budded Christmas cacti for practically nothing, beautiful mini-cyclamen in bloom in a wide range of colors, and so on. Our friend Ben and Silence were desperate for a new “orange” poinsettia (really an extraordinary dayglo orange-scarlet), but were told that—shock surprise!—they’d sold out first thing that morning. Instead, we bought—as we had the previous year—a stunning, huge, elaborate and ultra-fresh wreath for our house for just $18. We can tell you from last year that this wreath stayed fresh ’til March, and doubtless would have continued until May had Silence not insisted that we part company.

We may have reluctantly parted with last year’s wreath, but the gorgeous poinsettia we bought from Glick’s last year is even now thriving in our mudroom, and that’s what inspired our friend Ben to write this post. Urban legends abound about poinsettias. It’s time to set the record straight. But first, let me note that Glick’s poinsettia extravaganza continues tomorrow, Monday December 8th. If you can’t make it Monday, you can check out their excellent plants and prices even after the show has closed. Find their hours and directions at www.glicksgreenhouse.com.

Okay, finally, here’s that list of ten things you should know about poinsettias:

1. Poinsettias aren’t poisonous. This is an urban legend that’s been around since 1919. Here’s the truth: Like other euphorbias (the botanical name of poinsettia is Euphorbia pulcherrima), the milky latex sap of poinsettias can be quite irritating to bare skin, and can cause an allergic rash in sensitive individuals if they come in direct contact with the sap. And eeewwww, who’d want to eat one, anyway. But we’ve seen our wicked indoor cats eat many a poinsettia leaf and not only survive to tell the tale but come back for more while we frantically tried to figure out how to save our plants from the living shredders.

2. Poinsettia flowers are leaves. ‘Fraid so. The poinsettia flowers are those little yellow clusters in the middle of the showy colored leaves, or bracts. But the good news is that (orchids being an exception), the colorful bracts last much longer than flowers, so you can enjoy your poinsettias into spring, as long as you give them some light and remember to water them.

3. Poinsettias aren’t cold-climate plants. Poinsettias have come to be associated with Christmas, snowy weather, and the North Pole, but the truth is, they’re native to Mexico and south to Guatemala and Nicaragua, where they’re perennial shrubs or small trees. They bloom for us at Christmas because our winter is their summer bloom time.

4. Poinsettias aren’t spelled as they’re pronounced. In the U.S. at least, most of us say “poinsetta.” But however you pronounce them, when you spell them, don’t forget that final “i”: poinsettia.

5. Poinsettias are political. Well, maybe they haven’t chosen a political party, but they get their name from the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, who introduced the colorful plants to the United States way back in 1828.

6. Poinsettias are not blue, gold, or covered with glitter. At least, not in their natural state. Thanks to plant breeders like Paul Ecke, you can find poinsettias in many colors and forms. We’ve even seen some with variegated leaves. But those blue, gold, and glittery “blossoms” have been created with spray-paint. We think it’s an atrocity to do this to a live plant. Save the fakey colors for the artificial poinsettias, please. Like Jill Masterson in “Goldfinger,” live poinsettias need to breathe.

7. Poinsettias make lousy cut flowers. That’s why you never see them offered as cut flowers. The milky sap doesn’t do a lot for the water in an arrangement, and the “flowers” don’t last. Keep them on the plant, where they’ll provide fresh, cheerful color for months. 

8. Americans still prefer their poinsettias red. At Glick’s, in addition to the fabulous glowing orange-scarlet poinsettia and the variegated cultivars, we saw poinsettias that were pink, white, pink-and-white variegated, deep velvet maroon, maroon with pink and white spots, and many others. But surveys show that 74% of Americans still buy plain old red poinsettias. Why? Well, maybe they cost less than fancier varieties. But we think it’s because the red ones are gorgeous, and the clear red “flowers” against the emerald green of the leaves says Christmas like none of the newer types can.  

9. Poinsettia care is easy as 1-2-3. It’s easy to keep your poinsettias looking glorious for months on end (assuming, ahem, you can keep your cats from shredding them) if you remember the three simple secrets of poinsettia care: First, don’t keep them in a dark place. Poinsettias like bright morning light. When the sun heats up in the afternoon, they prefer indirect light. Second, don’t cook or freeze them. Poinsettias prefer moderate temperatures—no hotter than about 70 degrees F. and no colder than 50 degrees F. And third, don’t let them sit in water. Poinsettias like moist soil, not soggy soil and wet feet. Make sure you let the water drain away before returning them to their cachepots or displays. But don’t let them dry out, either. Evenly moist soil is your goal.

10. Yes, you can keep your poinsettias from year to year. This is more complicated than it sounds, however, which is why most people treat them as long-blooming annuals and buy new ones each Christmas.  To rebloom your plants, pot them up in spring in roomy pots and set them out in a lightly sunny to partially shaded site. (Some people plant them in their garden beds for the growing season and dig them up each fall, but we don’t think the transplant shock is worth it. Ours do fine in pots on our shady deck.)  Give them some liquid seasweed and/or other organic fertilizers, and keep them watered but not overwatered (see #9). That’s all there is to it until  about 2 months before you want them to come into bloom. At that point, bring them inside. then, every night, put them in a cool closet or other absolutely dark place for 12 hours every night. To initiate bract color (“bloom”), a poinsettia must have uninterrupted darkness. Even someone briefly opening the door to let in a sliver of light will disrupt the cycle. But of course the plants will die if kept in a closet or other dark place for two months, so you must bring them back into the light each day, then return them to darkness every night. Not only is this more work than most people are willing to go through for a relatively inexpensive plant, but the plant will never again look as good as it did that first year you bought it. Still, enthusiastic indoor gardeners like yours truly can’t resist the challenge, especially for an unusually attractive variety.

That’s it for our friend Ben! What intriguing poinsettia facts do you know that I’ve overlooked? Let us hear from you!