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Home & Garden: Pick the perfect Poinsettia to complement the holiday season

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There is no plant that says Christmas more than the Poinsettia. It comes in vibrant colors that are just what we need to brighten up our winter.

Although they are popping up everywhere be selective when you are purchasing one to take home. The colorful part of the Poinsettia is not the flower, but is actually modified leaves called bracts. The flowers are the tiny yellow buttons in the center. Look for plants where these are intact or just starting to open and have not shed pollen on the foliage. Pick plants with sturdy upright stems and dark green foliage that is plentiful all the way to the soil level. The bracts should be bright and flat with some yet to develop. The plant should look crisp, have a uniform shape and be well watered.

The next critical step is getting your plant safely home. It must be protected against cold weather. Have the seller wrap it in several layers of paper or plastic. Put it in your warmed up car and take it directly home. Poinsettias are a semi-tropical plant and are very sensitive to cold. The cold damage can take place in seconds and show up as limpness in about 24 hours.

Once home, find a bright location for your Poinsettia as the more light it receives the longer it will stay attractive. The light should be strong enough so that your fingers will cast a strong shadow. The plant needs at least six hours a day of bright, but indirect light. If you place it where the hot afternoon sun is directly on it, diffuse the light with a sheer curtain.

Do not place your Poinsettia near heat ducts, fireplaces or near drafts from frequently opened doors. You need to keep as constant an environment as possible. Temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees at night and 60 to 70 degrees during the day are ideal.

Moist but not soggy soil is important. If you prefer to leave the decorative foil around the pot, make a hole in the bottom so that water will run through. Poinsettias are very attractive placed in baskets or shiny metal and ceramic cachepots without the foil. You can put a layer of pebbles in the bottom to provide a humid atmosphere. Just be careful that standing water does not touch the roots or they may rot. The symptoms of over watering and under watering are very similar.

Check daily and water when the top of the soil starts to feel dry, about every 3 to 4 days. Add water until it drips out the bottom of the pot and then discard the excess. The plants will shed all plant parts for even a brief period of water stress.

Poinsettias may last a long time and even keep their color. Therefore, it is a good idea to fertilize it monthly after Christmas. One of mine remained a nice foliage plant with some color into the summer months. Now I am trying to get it to recolor by keeping it in a room that gets absolutely no light other than from the window. It is a challenge!

Although Poinsettias are beautiful all on their own, they can be even more decorative combined with other indoor plants. Ivy combines very well with them, as does the spider plant. The smaller Poinsettias are nice in a dish garden. Add some fresh cut greens and a bow to give it a holiday theme and remove the decorations for the rest of the year.