Brighten your winter days

PUBLISHED: 09:39 05 January 2006 | UPDATED: 17:11 11 May 2010

OWN up, how many of our readers were either given, or bought, a poinsettia for Christmas? These strongly-coloured red and green indoor pot plants really brighten up the home, especially on the kind of days we have been having with rain drizzling down, hel

OWN up, how many of our readers were either given, or bought, a poinsettia for Christmas?

These strongly-coloured red and green indoor pot plants really brighten up the home, especially on the kind of days we have been having with rain drizzling down, helping to thaw the covering of snow that started changing the colour of the countryside on Boxing Day.

Looking after poinsettias so that they continue to bear the red bracts is not difficult, so long as you bear a few rules in mind.

They don't like direct sunlight, so put them in indirect sunlight for at least six hours a day. If you can't avoid direct sun, shield the poinsettia with a sheet or sheer curtain.

They like a comfortable room temperature, say 68-70F (20-25C), but they hate being waterlogged so only water them if they feel dry to the touch. And if they are in a decorative pot, remove the flower pot, water, then allow the water to drain out before putting it back.

Don't put the plant in or near a cold draught - it would give you aches and pains and the plant would suffer as well. It is sensitive to cold, as well as open windows and doors, and remember that draughts come from chimneys and air ducts.

You may want to keep the plant for the next season. If so, after the blooming season - the red bracts are, in fact, leaves, not flowers, which are the small centres - you can apply a dose of a balanced, general purpose fertiliser.

By late March or early April, cut the poinsettia back to a height of no more than eight inches (13cms). Water it regularly, whenever it feels dry, and within a couple of months you should start to see the shoots of new growth.

When the chance of frost has gone, put the plants outdoors to soak up the spring and summer sun, but do keep an eye on the night-time temperatures as anything below 55F (12C) will send the plant into a right shiver.

Feed it with the all-purpose fertiliser every fortnight or so, keep the plant bushy with occasional careful pruning in June or July, and keep it out of the direct sunlight.

If the plant is getting too big for its pot, repot it into a new pot no more than 4 ins larger, and use a soil mix of peat moss or leaf mould, continuing with the feeding programme.

The poinsettia won't start setting its buds for the new flowering season until the longer nights of autumn and it needs 14 hours of total darkness each night. You can either move them into a suitable room, or covering them with a large, lightproof box. You need to maintain a night temperature of 60-70F (14-25C), and similar for the daytime when you should move the plant into indirect sunlight.

It takes a real professional set-up to guarantee the poinsettia will be bright red and bushy in time for Christmas, but by then you should be seeing something for all your TLC.

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