A poinsettia challenge: Keep temps neutral, water every 4-5 days

El Paso Times, by Maria Cortes Gonzales

El Pasoan Karen Cozad is not sure why, but poinsettias do not live long in her house.

"If someone buys me one, we offer it to the poinsettias God," she said jokingly. "I don't know what I do wrong, but all the leaves fall off. I've even tried repotting them, but I can't get them to work."

Poinsettias may be tricky to maintain for some people. But they continue to be popular as gifts and decorations throughout the holiday season.

Experts with Rocket Farms, one the largest poinsettia growers in the country, said they will ship 1.3 million poinsettias this holiday throughout the West Coast.

"They are part of our American culture. I think a lot of people growing up had a poinsettia at Christmas time," said Kyle Harmon, head grower at the farms in Salinas, Calif.

Though the selling time for poinsettias is only six weeks, they are considered the No. 1 potted plant in the United States, Harmon said.

The festive plants have been associated with Christmas since about the 19th century.

A popular Mexican legend tells of a poor girl who didn't have anything to give to baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. So she plucked some weeds on the way to church. The "weeds" blossomed into beautiful red plants.

In Mexico, you will often hear the plants referred to as Flores de Noche Buena (Christmas Eve Flowers).

A few years ago, homeowners seemed to like the trend of colored poinsettias in different hues including blue.

But this year, painting is definitely out, and it's all about the reds.

"Eighty-five percent of what we do is pure red, and the rest is other colors like mixes of reds and pinks. We have a peppermint which is red with white splashes. We also have some peach varieties -- but red is the best selling," Harmon said.

The grower said the company is starting to produce some darker varieties of reds, such as a dark burgundy. Whites, which tend to look yellow, are also available at some stores.

Poinsettias come in a range of sizes and homeowners may notice that there are even mini poinsettias -- in 2.5- to 3-inch pots -- available in some stores this year.

Harmon has a few tips for caring for poinsettias once you bring them home from the nursery.

"You have to give it the right conditions and keep the plant in a well-lit area and not too drafty. And keep the temperature above 65 degrees," he said.

Harmon said people often make the common mistake of putting the plants near doors.

"The biggest issue is with the doorway where it tends to let cold air in. It tends to shock them; they don't like drastic temperature changes," he said.

Harmon suggests putting them on tables and on windowsills where the temperature will stay neutral.

He also recommends watering them well every four or five days.

After the holidays, adventurous people may try to hold on to their poinsettias. People will have better luck with their plants if they keep them inside, continue to monitor watering and give them fertilizer (such as Miracle-Gro).

"You can also put them in a bigger pot and loosen their roots a bit and keep them inside until there's no sign of a frost," Harmon said.