Sunday 12th December is National Poinsettia Day. It is a dedicated occasion to celebrate the ever-popular striking red flower that is seen in abundance during the festive season.

But where did the flower originate, and how do you maintain it?

A Gift Given in Love

According to legend, a poor girl had no gift to give the baby Jesus. An angel appeared in front of her declaring that the most important thing was a gift given in love. The girl proceeded to gather weeds from the side of a road to place in the baby Jesus’ manger. Miraculously, the weeds bloomed into a beautiful plant with red star-shaped flowers, and the Poinsettia was born.

The Poinsettia – or Euphorbia Pulcherrima – is a plant species of the diverse spurge family (Euphorbiaceae). It is indigenous to Mexico and Central America. The Poinsettia derives its English name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico. Poinsett is credited with introducing the plant to the US in the 1820s, the plant then making its way to Europe in 1834.

Not Just for Christmas!

As one of the world’s most popular plants, with tens of millions sold around Europe each year, the proper care of poinsettias is a serious matter for plant parents all around the continent according to leading experts, Stars for Europe (SfE).

Whilst poinsettias are renowned for making wonderful festive displays, they also have a reputation for being a little tricky to care for but forewarned is forearmed! With Star for Europe’s handy tips, you can ensure these perfect little Flowers of the Holy Night (as they’re known in their native Mexico) survive long past twelfth night.

Temperature

You wouldn’t expect a thin-skinned prize pooch to brave the wilds of winter without a coat and a similar attitude should be adopted towards your Poinsettias, which hate nothing more than a cold draught.

The golden rule for Poinsettias is do not let them get too cold. They must be kept at a minimum temperature of 15-22 degrees Celsius and protected from both cold draughts and strong direct sunlight, preferring a warm, sheltered spot with light.

These sensitive plants can easily be damaged during transportation from garden centre or florist to home, so ensure they are properly wrapped in paper at the shop – without leaving any foliage exposed to the elements. You would ideally put inside a bag for safe measure. This is very important! Even a few minutes of exposure to drought or cold air – especially an Artic blast in the depth of winter – can terminally damage the leaves, which must be kept well sheltered at all times.

Light and Shade

Don’t put your plant baby in a shadowy corner. Poinsettias prefer a light spot rather than full shade, and the usual advice is to keep plants out of direct sunlight to protect their leaves from burning, but in winter this shouldn’t be a problem.

Water and Nutrition

Poinsettias need soil within an optimum ph range of 5.8 to 6.2, using three parts soil to one part grit, so plenty of oxygen can reach the roots. Most poinsettias don’t need repotting over winter, so you can safely keep it in the pot you bought it in.

They must not be over-watered and left in soggy soil. You should allow compost to just start drying out before giving your plant light watering, taking care not to soak it. Overwatering can cause Poinsettias to be blighted by grey mould and also makes them vulnerable to attack from common pests like mealybugs and scale insects.

Poinsettias do like humid conditions, so keep them misted if there’s a danger of them gasping for moisture in rooms where the central heating is on full blast.

Newly purchased Poinsettias do not require fertilising during the flowering period, because they are usually sold in pre-fertilised soil. If fertilising is required, for example if they are re-potted or if they are kept for longer, they like to be fed monthly with a high potassium, low nitrogen fertiliser.

Van Hage

Take a trip to Van Hage at PE1 this month and browse their range of beautiful Poinsettia! The garden centre is open 9am to 5.30pm from Monday to Saturday and 9.30am to 4pm on Sundays.

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