This small Mexican tree has becomeÂ a Christmas staple '“Â Brian Kidd
I would like to wish everyone a very happy Christmas and the best New Year ever! Thank you very much for all your letters and cards
This is the time to buy a poinsettia. They are so beautiful, aren't they?
They are cheery plants widely grown indoors throughout the Christmas and new year period for their brightly coloured bracts. And, did you know, there are three colours from which to choose even though by far and away the most popular are the scarlet onesÂ .
Those stunning red bracts are at their best right now and you will see that the flower is very small and is at the centre of the bract.
Poinsettias (euphorbia pulcherrima) are actually small evergreen trees where they originated in Mexico. They were introduced into greenhouses in England in 1834 but they have since been hybridised, this means breeders have selected strains which keep reasonably small and are easy to grow.
The best idea is to buy one from a garden centre where they know how to look after plants.
It isÂ not a good idea to buy one from somewhere where the plants are out in the open in the cold weather. Why? Because the plant might have pneumonia before you buy it!
How can we keep them going? Too much water is the main cause of failure soÂ keep them on the dry side. If in doubt, feel the compost at theÂ top of the pot. If it's dry put some water in a saucer for 10 minutes and the roots will absorb all theyÂ need.
Give the plant plenty of light but do not put it in a very sunny window. AÂ window with morning sun is OK but even at this time of year a sunny window may be too hot. TryÂ to keep the temperature above 10C (50F) at all times.
If the lower leaves become yellow, the plant has been overwatered. This may not be your fault. Take off the yellow leaves and make sure youÂ water the plant only when the compost feels dry.
They are often disposed of once they start to fade, but with a little care you can keep them all year and the bracts will colour up again the following year. In fact, lots of people keep poinsettias for many years. You'll see that the plants will begin to become very largeÂ in spring, about the middle of March.
TheyÂ can be pruned back. All shoots are cut back to half their length. The cuts will bleed with white sap soÂ use a tissue to stop this.
If you want to get the poinsettia to produce more red bracts it is important to allow the plant to enjoy natural lightÂ from a window. It needs to be in a room where the light is never turned on. If left in a warm greenhouse in a temperature of a minimum of 10C (50F) the plant will produce red bracts about February.
How do the professionals get them looking so good for Christmas? They are grown in greenhouses with extra light andÂ the growers are really clever, they use lighting to turn two days into one. We won't go into the whys and wherefores of it all!
Remember: don't overwater, ensure there's lots of light but not hot sunshine, and keep them in a temperature of not less than 10C.
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