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Popular poinsettias need plenty of sunlight

During the holiday season, many people purchase ornamental houseplants for the home or office.

Poinsettias are the most popular and well-known of the holiday plants, and they can be a great addition to any decor if you know how to properly care for them.

The poinsettia's brightly colored bracts, which can come in red, white, pink and cream colors, are the most beautiful part of the plant. The actual flowers are the small, yellow blooms in the center of the colorful bracts.

When selecting poinsettias, look for plants with fully mature, thoroughly colored bracts, having an abundance of dark, rich green foliage all the way down the stem. The leaves and bracts should not be drooping. The plants need to be balanced, full and attractive from all sides, with stiff stems, good bract and leaf retention, and no signs of wilting, breaking or drooping.

The poinsettia needs to be placed in a bright location so it receives at least six hours of bright, indirect sunlight each day. Avoid direct sunlight, since it may fade the color of the bracts. The daytime temperature should not be any higher than 70 F, and the plant needs to be kept away from drafts, excessive heat or dry air from appliances, fireplaces or ventilation ducts. Temperatures that drop below 50 F can cause chilling injuries, leading to premature leaf drop.

Poinsettias require moderately moist soil, not too dry or too wet. Water them thoroughly when the soil surface feels dry to the touch. Water until liquid seeps out of the drainage hole and the soil is completely saturated.

In the spring, when the colorful bracts fade, prune back the plant to about 8 inches in height. The plant will look bare after pruning, but eventually new growth will emerge from the nodes up and down the stem. Keep the plant near a sunny window and continue to water it regularly during its growing period. You can take the plant outdoors once the night temperature remains above 50 F.

Fertilize the plant every two to three weeks during the spring, summer and fall with a well-balanced, complete fertilizer, such as 10-10-10. Bring poinsettias back indoors when the temperatures drop below 50 F in the fall.

Long nights and short days initiate the flowering of poinsettias. Starting in late September, the plants need to have 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness. The exposure to any light source - even car lights or room lights - will delay or prevent flowering. Place them in a dark closet or in a box for 13 hours and then bring them out to a sunny window.

Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.