BRIAN KIDD: The plant that says Christmas is here comes from... Mexico

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It was a wonderful Christingle afternoon at St Mary’s Church, Fratton, last Sunday week. It was great to say hello and I'd like to wish everyone a very merry 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. Aren’t they beautiful?

There are three colours from which to choose but most people like red best. The beautiful red bracts are at their best right now. The flower is tiny and is at the centre of the bract.

In Mexico, where they originated, Poinsettias are small evergreen trees. They were introduced into greenhouses in England in 1834 but they have been hybridised. This means breeders chose strains which keep reasonably small and are easy to grow.

I often wonder how excited the plant hunters were when they first saw them growing as trees. Something to write home about is an understatement. It must have been a real thrill as they had never been seen before.

Buy one from a garden centre where they know how to look after plants. Don't buy one from somewhere where the plants are out in the cold. Why? The plant may catch pneumonia before you buy it!

How can we keep them going? Too much water is the main cause of failure. Keep them on the dry side. If in doubt, feel the compost on top of the pot. If it’s dry put some water in a saucer for 10 minutes, then the pot in the saucer and the roots will absorb all the needed.

Give it plenty of light but not in a sunny window. A window with morning sun is OK, but even at this time of year this may be too hot. Try to keep the temperature above 10C (50F) at all times.

If the lower leaves become yellow, the plant has been over-watered. Take off the yellow leaves and water only when the compost feels dry.

Many people keep poinsettias for years and they will begin to get large. In spring, about the middle of March, they can be pruned back. All shoots should be cut back to half their length. The cuts will bleed with white sap. Use a tissue to stop this.

If you want to get a poinsettia to produce more red bracts remember to allow the plant to enjoy natural light from a window. It needs to be in a room in which the light is never turned on. If left in a warm greenhouse in a temperature of 10C minimum the plant will produce lovely red bracts about February.

How do they get them looking so good for Christmas? They're grown in greenhouses with extra light. The growers are clever and use

lighting to turn two days into one, but we won't go into that here!

Do you feed the birds? We do and at this time of year I do it just before sunrise. Our robin hears me walking from the back door. He eats out of the box of fruit and suet combined with seeds. He cleverly shakes the seeds aside to get to the suet pellets. Simple things are wonderful and I am looking forward to tomorrow to see that twinkling eye!

I hope there will be a robin's nest in our robin nest box.


When cutting thyme for Christmas stuffing, take only the top few inches. If you do this the plant will send out nice new side shoots and ensure it lives for a long time.