The classic Christmas plant

Unlike other holiday plants that have origins in European lore, the tradition of giving poinsettias stems from Central America. This particular legend comes from Mexico and involves a young girl named Maria and her brother Pablo.

The Tradition

Each year Maria and Pablo would eagerly await the Christmas festival. This festival, which includes parades and parties, included a Nativity scene in the village square. While Maria and Pablo loved the festival, they were also sad. It was customary for the villagers to give a gift to the church for the baby Jesus, however their family was poor. They had no money to buy a special gift>.

One Christmas Eve, the siblings set out for Midnight Mass. Along the way, they picked some weeds growing beside the road as their gift for baby Jesus. Although they wanted to give much more, it was all they had. As they placed the weeds around the manager, the leaves turned into bright red petals, in the shape of the star. The poinsettia was born and came to be a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem.

While poinsettias are beautiful plants, many people tend to throw them away once the holidays are over. Don't! With the proper maintenance, poinsettias can last year round. Keep in mind that poinsettias can be dangerous to kids and pets, so be mindful of Christmas Plant Safety.

Poinsettia Care

Place the poinsettia in a moderately sunny location. Avoid the direct sunlight of south facing windows. Also avoid drafty locations or locations where the temperature may vary too greatly during the day. Poinsettias do best in daytime temperatures of 72 degrees and higher and night temperatures of at least 60 degrees. Keep the soil damp, but not wet. Over watering or extremely dry soil will cause the leaves to yellow and fall off. Once the plant has three weeks to acclimatize, start adding a low-nitrogen fertilizer. Apply the fertilizer once every three weeks.After several weeks, the red leaves will fall off - this is normal. When this occurs, move the plant to a cool location where it is approximately 45-55 degrees. Also, reduce the amount of light by moving the poinsettia to a northeast or east facing window. The plant is now in its "rest period" and won't produce new red leaves for several months.

How to Repot

In the spring, repot the poinsettia and trim back the stems 3-6 inches. As new foliage starts to grow, move the poinsettia gradually into brighter light. The rate at which new red leaves bloom depends on the amount of sunlight it receives. However, you want to control this rate otherwise the plant won't have its bright red leaves in time for Christmas. So in October, place the poinsettia in a dark room between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. Keep doing this until the leaves darken to the ideal shade of red. By mid-December the poinsettia will be in full bloom.

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