With the Christmas season drawing near, itís time to think of festive decorations and gift giving.

With the Christmas season drawing near, itís time to think of festive decorations and gift giving.  As the poinsettia is one of the most popular Christmas potted plants, you might want to consider the purchase of one for your home or as a gift.  The following facts about poinsettias will help you to choose a healthy plant that will retain its colorful bracts for several weeks.

The colorful part of the poinsettia is the modified leaves known as bracts.  The actual flowers are yellow, found in tight clusters, and are relatively inconspicuous.  There are single and double bracts in red, pink, white and variegated.  When selecting your poinsettias, look for a compact plant with large colorful bracts and dark green leaves.  The leaves should be present from the bracts to the base of plant, nearly to the soil line.  The bracts should extend over the lower foliage.  Plants with true flowers that have fallen out should be avoided as this is an indication of maturity.  If the flowers are producing pollen the bracts will be fading soon and the useful display life has passed.

If you receive a poinsettia as a gift, the following steps will be helpful in maintaining an attractive and healthy plant.  If kept indoors, the plant should be placed in a sunny location protected from sudden temperature changes caused by heating vents or drafts.  Poinsettias need day temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees F and night temperatures of no less than 60 degrees F.  Temperatures of 50 degrees F and below may cause the leaves to wilt and the bracts to drop.

When the soil feels dry to the touch the plant should be watered thoroughly.  Watering correctly is very important as the plant will not tolerate over-watering and under-watering causes wilting and leaf drop.  If a decorative foil is wrapped around the pot, punch a hole in to it to allow the water to drain away.

After four to six weeks the poinsettia will become dormant and leaves will fall leaving only a stem to shrivel.  Place the plant in a cool location allowing some light.

In our area, poinsettias are best used as potted plants as they may freeze in the ground.  In the spring, the plant should be cut back four to six inches above the soil line.  If you decide to use your poinsettia as a shrub in the landscape, after the danger of frost has past.  Dig a hole one foot wider and six inches deeper than the root ball and back fill the hole with enough soil so that the plant will be sitting in the hole at the same height as it was in the container.  Water thoroughly to remove air pockets.  By placing mulch around the plant you will conserve moisture and help control weeds.  The plant should be fertilized every four to six weeks.

The tips of the new growth should be pinched so that the plant remains compact.  Repeat this procedure until the middle of August.  Poinsettias will not bloom indoor if lights are used during the night when the flower buds are farming.  The plants should receive only 8 hours of light per day from Oct. 1to Nov. 15.  This can be accomplished by placing the plant in a dark room or covering it with a cardboard box.  Discontinue treatment when bracts begin to show color.  By Thanksgiving the bracts should show color, and by Christmas they should be in full bloom.

Following these steps can afford you an attractive, flowering poinsettia for each holiday season.

For more information on Poinsettia Production contact the Gulf County Extension Service @ 639-3200 or visit our website:  http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu or www.http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu and see Publication ENH 1083 and SL 212.