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Tips to keep that poinsettia alive

Master gardener Ciscoe Morris says to look for one that's just beginning to flower right in the center of the plant. #newdaynw

SEATTLE — Keep your poinsettia looking good until after Valentines Day by following these simple tips.

Start by picking a healthy plant that is just beginning to flower. The colorful parts of the poinsettia are modified leaves called bracts. The flowers are the small yellow dots in the center, and if they are just beginning to open, the color display is likely to last longer. 

Poinsettias detest cold. When you buy one, ask for it to be wrapped in a paper sleeve, and take it directly home rather than leaving it in a cold car as you shop or do errands. As soon as you get it home, tear holes in the bottom of the decorative foil to allow for adequate drainage; then place the pot in a plant saucer. 

Poinsettias drop their leaves if they dry out, so water just enough to keep the soil evenly moist. Locate the plant in a bright location, but avoid placing it in a cold draft or where a heater vent blows on it. 

Finally, don’t worry about the old myth that poinsettias are poisonous. A study at Ohio State University showed that a 50-pound child who eats 500 bracts only gets a slight tummy ache. (I wonder how they got the kid to eat all of those poinsettia leaves?)

If you keep your Poinsettia over the winter and want it to bloom again next year, you have to give it the nighttime darkness treatment. It takes about 10 weeks for the buds to form, so next fall, starting in late September, every night put the plant in a closet where it will receive total darkness for 14 hours. Then every morning, move it to a brightly lit spot for a maximum of 10 hours per day. 

If you forget to move it into the dark, or you forget it’s in there and accidentally open the door and let light in, the plan will fail and you won’t be seeing the red bracts color up for Christmas. Once buds form, you’ve succeeded and the plant no longer needs the darkness treatment. However, it still needs bright light for the bracts (the colorful leaves next to the true flowers) to grow big and develop a good color. 

When you stop the darkness treatment, put the plant in as bright light as possible for 14 hours a day. When you do the light treatment, make sure you put a sign on the closet door that says, "Hey dim-dim, there's a poinsettia in there. Don't open this door!" That way you won't forget it's in there and open the door (like I have several times). If one smidgen of light hits the plant when it is in darkness, you're out of luck for the colorful bracts for this year.

Segment Producer Suzie Wiley. Watch New Day Northwest at 11 a.m. weekdays on KING 5 and streaming live on KING5.com. Contact New Day.

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