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Poinsettias can keep yuletide warmth alive

 Poinsettias can keep yuletide warmth alive

When the stockings are emptied, the wrappings are tossed and thedinner is eaten, Christmas is finally over. But you can stillextend the glow of the holiday season with your poinsettia.

With some regular attention, you can enjoy that Christmas iconinto the next winter holidays.

“Keeping them going in the house is quite easy, like a houseplant, really,” says Sandra Salivar, a master gardener and GreenValley resident.

Newer varieties of the Mexican tropical species stay colorfullonger.

“When you take care of them, most of the new ones will keeptheir color as long as Easter,” Salivar says.

Salivar is trained in greenhouse management and worked forgarden centers before retiring. She has tended several poinsettiaswell past winter, although she isn’t growing any right now.

It’s difficult to grow poinsettias in the ground in these partsbecause it’s too cold in the winter, says Phil Seader. He’s theplant expert at Green things Nursery, which grows more than 15,000potted poinsettias each season.

Covers are too heavy to protect the plant from frost or freezeunless you have a frame over which to drape them.

If you want to try, here are tips from the Harlow Gardens &Nursery website (www.harlowgardens.com):

• When the plant looks spent in late January or February, stopwatering to make it go dormant.

• When the threat of frost passes in March or April, cut theplant to 6 inches above soil level. Water sparingly for about twoweeks.

• New shoots will start to develop. Transplant to a well-amendedbed with good drainage and in a protected area. give it a goodsoaking.

• Between June 1 and Dec. 1, feed once a month with gardenfertilizer high in nitrogen.

• to create a bushy plant, prune away in early July any newgrowth back to about 6 inches from the old stem.

• for the plant to set buds for flowers and bracts by theholidays, it needs to sit in darkness for enough consecutivenights. any artificial nighttime light source in September, Octoberor November will delay blooming.

Seader from Green things suggests 11 to 13 hours of nighttimedarkness during this time.

An outdoor potted poinsettia allows a bit more flexibility thanplants in the ground, Seader says. You can bring it in to keep itwarm on freezing or frosty nights and to keep it in a dark, unusedroom while you’re trying to set buds.

Aside from transplantation, follow the same directions for apotted poinsettia.

Salivar has found success using these methods:

• place plant close to a sunny window, but not in direct light.also place it out of cold and warm drafts. Don’t set it on top oftelevisions.

• keep soil evenly moist from the time you receive theplant.

• Mist the plant once or twice a month to add some humidity. Asunny bathroom is a good spot to put the plant.

• after the plant loses its leaves, which it will do as it goesdormant, cut off the “nasty looking” tops.

• As new branches grow, cut them down past the second set of newleaves to make the plant bushy.

• Feed it monthly with all-purpose houseplant fertilizer.

• When placing the plant in the dark to form buds, choose a coolplace in the home. cut back on watering during this time so thatthe soil dries between waterings.

Even if you can’t get the poinsettia to set colorful bracts, thegreen plant will still please.

Says Salivar: “They do make really nice houseplants just likethey are.”

Poinsettias are not poisonous – Period

And no one has been able to prove that the popular holiday plantis even toxic, says Keith Boesen, manager of the Poison ControlCenter at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy.

Boesen cites a 1978 study out of Duquesne University’s School ofPharmacy. its conclusion: even if a 50-pound child ingested 1.25pounds of poinsettia leaves, about 500 to 600 leaves, no toxiceffects would occur.

What poison control center advisers see are unhappy side effectsfrom eating or touching the plant.

“The no. 1 concern with a poinsettia and any child is that theycan choke on it,” Boesen says.

The danger is especially pronounced now as people cleaning upafter the holidays move plants from high places to areas wherechildren can get to them.

Here’s what to do if other side effects occur.

• Eating pieces can cause upset stomach or vomiting. Call adoctor if these persist for several hours.

• Coming in contact with the milky sap can irritate the skin,eyes, nose and mouth. Rinse out irritated mouth or eyes. Washirritated skin with soap and water.

• some people and animals can have an allergic reaction to thesap that includes rash, hives and swelling. Call the poison center,1-800-222-1222 for advice.

Did You know?

Poinsettia plants are safe to compost for your garden. Treat itlike you would any other plant for the pile.

Contact local freelance writer Elena Acoba atacoba@dakotacom.net

Poinsettias can keep yuletide warmth alive

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