Poinsettias difficult to save for next year

Many people use poinsettias to decorate their homes during the holiday season. The plants you purchase now can be a beautiful part of your decorations, but they’re probably only good for this season, the experts say.

Although many people are tempted to keep poinsettias and see if they will bloom again next year, LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dan Gill and other experts say it takes a lot of work to grow or maintain a poinsettia of the quality we expect for the holidays.

“The home gardener simply doesn’t have the facilities necessary to control the environmental conditions around this plant,” Gill said.

For commercial horticulturist Ron Fennell, thinking about growing poinsettias for the following holiday season begins about as soon as the current one is over.

“We really begin by ordering our poinsettias in February,” said Fennell, a horticulturist for Clegg’s Nursery in Baton Rouge. “We will receive them around the 25th of August.”

According to Fennell and other experts, the process for growing poinsettias is very detailed.

For Fennell, once the poinsettias are received in August, they are transplanted into 6-inch pots. Then the 26-day-old poinsettia plants are transferred to a greenhouse.

Once they are transferred, the plants are carefully spaced, and drip irrigation is added. A crucial step takes place two and a half weeks later when each plant is “pinched.” This is when the plant is cut at the seventh node.

“If you didn’t pinch the poinsettia, you would only have one flower on that plant,” said Fennell. “But when you pinch it at the seventh node, you will create more flowers and bracts.”

As if that wasn’t tough enough, the experts say there is much more to growing a poinsettia.

Because they are sensitive to certain lighting conditions, Fennell adjusts the light by placing a shade cloth around each greenhouse when the poinsettia plants are first transferred into the houses. That reduces the light by approximately 40 percent – until the cloth is removed during the first week of October.

It is important to note, however, that only natural light is used to grow poinsettias. According to Fennell, no lights are turned on in the greenhouse after dark and no outside artificial light, such as that from street lights, is allowed inside.

“If any artificial light shines on the plants at night, it would interfere with the formation of flowers,” Gill explained.

Other environmental conditions like the temperature are constantly monitored. “We do not let the temperature in the greenhouse drop below 68 degrees,” Fennel said, adding that poinsettias grow best when the temperature is between 68 and 73 degrees.

Throughout the growing season, Fennell also monitors the soil in which the plants are growing – to determine that the proper pH level is being maintained and that the plants are receiving the right amount of fertilizer.

Fennell also tracks the growth of each variety to make sure they are the correct height. “If the plant is too tall, we will put a growth regulator on them to make sure they are the correct height,” said Fennell.

Height is one of the factors in the quality and beauty of the plant, according to Gill.

“The height of the plant pays a major role in the quality of the poinsettia,” Gill explained. “Tall, leggy poinsettias are not as attractive as stocky full plants. In addition, tall poinsettias are more likely to break.”

The LSU AgCenter horticulturist said the work involved in producing high quality poinsettia plants probably is beyond what most home gardeners would want to invest.

“All of this is why the professional horticulturist can create beautiful poinsettias,” Gill said. “But it’s probably beyond the type of investment a home gardener would want to make.”

The experts say to go out and purchase the poinsettia of your choice, but remember it is just as much work as it is beautiful.

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