Saturday, December 15, 2018

My Euphorbia pulcherrima, a Christmas story

A few years ago at the end of Christmas season after Mass, the priest said if anybody wanted one of the dozens of poinsettias decorating the alter we could take one home. Never one to turn down a free plant I did just that.

I thought it'd be cool to see how long I could keep one alive. It lived through the summer but lost all it's color and turned into just a boring little green plant that took up room. But I'm also never one to throw away a plant.

If you Google "How to get a poinsettia to turn red" (like really big nerds are apt to do), you will find detailed instructions that hardly seem worth it.
Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) need total darkness, for 14 hours each day, starting about eight weeks before you want to display them.
During the day, the plants need bright light, along with the other routine care. However, starting in the evening, the plants must get complete darkness. Even a nightlight can disrupt this process! Depending on where you have the plant (planted outside, or in a pot indoors), will determine how you approach this process. I’ll let you decide that.
The bracts will start to turn color in about four weeks, and continue if you carefully keep up the process. Poinsettias need a humid environment during this time, but be careful not to spray the foliage directly, as you may invite leaf spot, not a desired feature on such a showy leaf! In about eight weeks, the bracts should all be red, if you’ve followed the above guidelines. They’ll stay this way for several weeks, at least until after Christmas. 
Eventually the leaves will start to drop off. Once this occurs, cut the stems back to four to six inches. Keep the soil fairly dry, and the plant warm until new growth occurs. You can then replant in the garden in a sunny spot. Add a light amount of fertilizer in the spring and summer. Come next October, start the whole process over again! 
So you could just go to Walmart and pay 10 bucks for a new perfectly shaped red plant.

Or you could do what I do.

Every spring, I dig a hole in a bare spot along a path of perennials I have by the bird feeder and bird bath, plop it in there and don't touch it again. It gets hit by the mower, stomped on by dogs and deer and pooped on by birds. Stems break off. It just exists, drawing no attention, as the daisies and coneflowers attract all the attention from bees, butterflies and me.

Then just before frost, I dig it up again. Throw the clod of dirt in a pot, stuff some potting soil around it, set it in my office/library/conservatory/greenhouse room and water it once in a while.

Amazingly, it turns red just in time for Christmas.

It's like me. It's tall and spindly, kind of scraggly, but when it feels like it, can clean up halfway decent.

This was a good year for both of us.

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