Gardening

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The Holidays will soon be here and the stores will be flush with decorations galore including holiday plants. For many of us, the holidays would not be the same without the traditional plants of the season such as amaryllis, Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus, and, of course, the queen herself, the poinsettia. 
Years ago, poinsettias could only be found at florist shops but eventually nurseries and garden centers began to sell these beauties as hybridizers, launching many new color choices and offering other styles of plants such as hanging baskets and tree forms.  The newer generations of poinsettias can be light red or dark red with green leaves or very dark green leaves; they can be several shades of pink or salmon, traditional white or speckled and splotched. There is even a plum-colored poinsettia.  In short, there is something for every taste and decorating style. With so much plant availability, a few pointers are in order.
It will be common to see poinsettias for sale in the grocery store, the big box stores, and many other retailers who may or may not have any staff designated for the care of the plants, so be wary and keep these points in mind when choosing poinsettia plants:
• Choose plants that look healthy and are not droopy or wilted.  They should be full, balanced, and good looking from all sides.
• Bracts (modified leaves) should be well colored with no green showing and the true flower (the yellow center or cyathia) should not be shedding pollen as that indicates a plant past its prime
• Look at how the plants are displayed. They should not be crowded or touching, standing in water, or sleeved before purchase time.
• Insist that your plants be wrapped well in a paper sleeve before you take them to your car. Be mindful that these are tropical plants and are easily damaged by cold and that means any temperature below 50 degrees.

When you get the plants home, carefully remove the paper covering and follow these tips for care:

• Place the poinsettia in indirect light for six hours daily.
• Do not let leaves touch window panes or be in an area subject to drafts or by open windows or doors.
• Poinsettias in bloom prefer a day time temperature in the range of 60-70 degrees and night time around 55 degrees or as close to that as possible.
• Check the soil daily and water when dry. A way to determine when to water is when the entire plant feels light when picked up. Water thoroughly and allow water to drain away and be discarded—do not allow plant to sit in water!
If you purchase poinsettias as gifts, slip the sleeve down or off until you are going to deliver the plants and re-cover at delivery time.
With proper care, poinsettias will last well past the holiday season. Should you want to try your hand at re-flowering your poinsettia, contact your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office for guidelines.
Susan Pezzolla is Community Educator for horticulture and Master Gardner Coordinator for Cornell Cooperative Extension, Albany County. To reach Sue, call 765.3516 or email Sep37@cornell.edu.

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