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The ever-pleasing poinsettia

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By Susan Brown, County Extension

It’s that time of year again to celebrate and consume a great deal of food. Time to hang those lights, decorate those Christmas trees and shop till we drop. Work in the garden has started to wind down. Some days of winter can be dreary and cold.
What better way to spice up your life than with a poinsettia? For those of you who do not know, I spent five years growing these little beauties at Homewood Nursery in Raleigh, and let me tell you, they are no easy task. They are finicky plants and are extremely heavy feeders and, in my opinion, one of the hardest and most demanding crops to grow.
The last few years I experimented with growing them under cooler conditions. I found the plants to be more compact and they displayed a more intense color, not to mention the lower cost in heating bills. The most crucial time for them is September and October. This is when any stray exposure to light could cause damage to an entire crop.
Once the consumer takes one home, all the hard work has been done. Homewood Nursery is one of the select few, along with North Carolina State University, to trial the newest varieties on the market—some varieties so new they don’t even have names yet.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to see the diversity of the poinsettia, you are missing out. You can find speckled white and red, purple, cream, pink, pink with a white edge, white and varying shades of red.
Breeders have been trying to develop a true white poinsettia. For some reason this is a huge challenge. Most of the white varieties you see available are closer to cream or off-white in color.
Polar Bear is the closest currently available to a true white. My problem when shopping for one is which one to buy. I have many favorite varieties, such as Sonora White Glitter, Cortez Burgundy, Jingle Bells, Cinnamon Star and Ice Punch. I tend to go for the non-traditional varieties.
They need a bright sunny spot to live indoors and can tolerate temperatures as low as 65 degrees. They tend to be quite fragile, and contrary to popular belief, they are not poisonous.
The number one reason for the death of a poinsettia is from overwatering. They do best when they are allowed to dry out in between waterings. When you water them, make sure you do not let them sit in water. They are extremely susceptible to root rot.
A great companion plant with the poinsettia is indeed another Euphorbia. It is called Diamond Frost, and some of you may be familiar with it as an annual for the garden. This delightful beauty has lacy white blooms that soften the look of the poinsettia.
I found that planted together, the Diamond Frost Euphorbia takes over the pot, so it’s better to plant them separately. I am amazed at Diamond Frost’s performance indoors. It blooms prolifically.
So while you are out shopping for all those gifts, grab yourself an indoor plant that is sure to please.

SUSAN BROWN is a horticulture agent with
the Brunswick County Extension Service. Call 253-2610 or e-mail susan_brown@ncsu.edu.