By Lynn Barber

One traditional holiday plant is the Poinsettia and the bright red variety is more easily established for outdoor use than other colors. After much breeding, several colors other than red are available, including peach, white, burgundy, yellow and marbled colors. What some think of as the flower is really the leaves, aka bracts. The actual flowers are the tiny clusters in the middle of the bracts. This is a “short day” plant, meaning it blooms when days are short and nights are long. This tropical plant likes temperatures in the area of 75-80 degrees during the day and 65 degrees at night. Blooming requires an extended period of darkness.

Outdoors, it should be located in the sun and away from artificial light. If planted near artificial light, such as a street light or exterior house lighting, after October 1, there will be a flowering delay. You can plant Poinsettias outside after the last chance of frost has passed which is generally around mid-February in the Tampa area. Prune to 4-6 inches of stem on each branch; then fertilize monthly with a balanced fertilizer from March to October. Indoors, don’t fertilize or overwater. Give the plant a drink only when the soil is dry. Remove the foil wrapper from around the plant pot. It retains water, can damage furniture and cause the roots to rot. This plant has received a bad reputation as being poisonous, but it’s not. There is a white, milky sap in the stem. If you are allergic to latex, you are probably better off not handling this plant. Sheila Monahan said, “This is one of my favorite holiday plants.”

For more information about this holiday gem and from which this article was adapted, see the University of Florida publication, Poinsettias at a Glance, by Sydney Park Brown, at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep349. For more information about the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program or assistance with gardening related questions, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County at 744-5519, visit us at 5339 C.R. 579 in Seffner or hillsborough./ifas.ufl.edu.