Hard job: Getting poinsettia to bloom

Christmas is over and you're sick and tired of red and green, but that poinsettia plant Aunt Margaret bought for you is still going strong.
Should you pitch it or preserve it for the next holiday?
Philip Steiner, president of Mellinger's Nursery in North Lima, said keeping a poinsettia until next Christmas is no problem.
"A poinsettia is simply a tropical foliage plant native to South America, and it can be grown indoors or outdoors during summer just like any other houseplant," Steiner said.
Steiner said poinsettias can grow to be mammoth, reaching a height of about 3 or 4 feet.
But poinsettias need fertilizer throughout winter and spring, and if they are living outdoors during July and August, they'll need some shade.
They'll also need some special care come September.
"If you do want to keep your poinsettia, starting in mid-September, it must have 12 hours of total darkness in order for it to bloom," Steiner said.
The colored portion of the poinsettia is called a bract.
"They look like colored leaves, but they aren't really leaves," Steiner said.
If the plant receives sufficient darkness, Steiner said it will start to produce colored bracts by Thanksgiving.
Another view
Of course some gardeners say keeping a poinsettia alive all year long and getting it to show some color isn't worth the trouble.
Keith Kaiser, assistant horticultural director at Mill Creek MetroParks at Fellows Riverside Gardens, recommends pitching your poinsettia and buying a new one next Christmas.
"It's not difficult to keep a poinsettia alive, but it takes a lot of trouble to get it to produce the colored bracts," Kaiser said.
Kaiser said the poinsettia needs absolute, total darkness, and that's one thing many people don't realize.
"The daylight hours should be very short -- about eight hours -- and then it has to be in complete, total darkness for about 12 hours. The room has to be a completely black and you have to be very diligent about this. If you're not, the poinsettia won't bloom," he said.
If your poinsettia plant has been in the family for a few years or it is extremely large, then maybe it's worth it to preserve it until next year, Kaiser said. "Otherwise, it makes a great addition to the compost heap," he said.

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