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You Can Grow It: Tips to keep poinsettias red after the holidays

Jim Duthie has some care tips to make your poinsettia last longer and look good in the new year.

You've seen them everywhere throughout the holiday season. They're one of the most iconic symbols of Christmas. And whether you pronounce them poin-set-uh or poin-set-eeya, they're still beautiful. There are actually dozens of different colors and shades of poinsettia, from the classic red to pink, yellow, salmon, orange and neon green, as well as striped and mottled varieties.

Now that Christmas is over, you might be wondering how to take care of this plant so it will last on into the new year. They're not hard to care for, but a few tips will make it last longer and look good.

Even though they're popular during the cold, dark days of the Christmas season, poinsettias are really a tropical plant. American ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, noted them growing wild in Mexico in the 1840s and sent samples back to the United States. They soon became known as poinsettias in his honor.

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What we think of as the colored flower petals of the poinsettia are actually the leaves of the plant, called bracts. Their bright colors help attract pollinating insects to the flowers, which are small yellow buds in the center of the leaf clusters.

Indoors, poinsettias prefer temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees. Avoid cold drafts or heat from vents. Place the plant near a sunny window where it will have sunlight for at least five hours a day, but don't let the plant touch the cold window pane or it will be damaged.  

Water thoroughly when the soil starts to feel dry. A little wilting is okay, but don't let the plant dry.  Water thoroughly, and let the water drain completely from the pot. Intense sunlight and low humidity will require more frequent watering. A few yellow or dropped leaves is normal.  

You can continue to grow your poinsettia through the year. It makes an attractive outdoor plant in summer, although it will be all green. You can get it to bloom again for next year, but it is very difficult, and most people find that it's easier to just buy a new plant.

If you want to continue growing your poinsettia through the summer, cut back on watering in the spring, around April or May, repot it, and cut the plant's branches back to about 4 inches.  Put it in a dark place for 12 to 15 hours a day.  When the nights warm up above 50 degrees, around June and July, move it outside into partial shade and water and fertilize it regularly.  

If you want to try re-blooming it, starting in the fall, it will need total darkness between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. each day. Even the smallest amount of light will prevent it from budding. When the buds appear, move it back out into the light.

Even after the poinsettia's leaves lose their color and become green again, it is still a very attractive patio plant.

Tips for poinsettia care:

1.  5-6 hours of sunlight.  60-70 degrees.
2.  Water when soil becomes dry.  Drain completely.
3.  Leaves will gradually lose color.  Some will drop.
4.  Plant outdoors in summer.