Q. I received three poinsettia plants for Christmas presents and it is not even the New Year’s Day and all three are in the process of dying. Most of the leaves have dropped off and they are probably dead or close to it. What am I doing wrong? As a child, my mother had those blooming until sometime in May and a few times had them blooming for Christmas again. Give me some help.
S. V. of Glen Carbon.
A. The first consideration may not even be your fault. The person who gave you the poinsettia plant may not have protected it from the cold temperatures. Usually a plastic sleeve is put over the plant, but that really does not protect them from the freezing temperatures and then leaves will suddenly fall off. Or the plant may have been grown in a greenhouse where the auto heater was set too high and the leaves failed from high temperatures. Poinsettias prefer a minimum air temperature of 55 to 60 degrees when they are in flower.
Next consideration is the amount of light. They need a lot of light, but make sure the plant is not setting in a south or western window, which will magnify the sun rays and burn the leaves. Then they will drop off. You could place the plant near sheer curtains over a window to reduce the heat. Right now the angle of the sun is at a lower level than any other time this year.
Humidity is another consideration. You will need to mist the leaves several times a day to keep the air humidity high enough. This misting is necessary until the colored bracts (leaves) are still attached. You need to keep doing this until May when the outdoor air will provide enough humidity for the plants.
To help survival, remove the foil covering on the pot and place it in a saucer. This will help prevent it from getting water-logged.
Next year, if you are given more poinsettia plants, you will need to check the plants for two small animal problems: spider mites and mealy bugs. To check for them, place a piece of white paper over the plant and tap the leaves. Look closely for little spots. If you see them, very quickly push your finger on these little spots and if they turn reddish-orange, this will indicate spider mites. No color but waxy scales? It means you have an infection of mealy bugs.
Wash them off with two sponges (one for under the leaf and the other for the top of the leaf) with one tablespoon of liquid dishwater detergent. (Do not use Dawn as it has a degreaser which will injure the leaf.)
Now if you want to save parts of the original live poinsettia plants, take stem cuttings about 5 to 6 inches in length and dip them into a rooting hormone. Then place them into a hole made in soil by a pencil. Keep the cuttings moist for about three to four weeks, pull them up slowly to check on the number of roots being produced. When they number three or four, you can gently remove them and place them in their own 3- to 4-inch container.
Keep fertilizing these small plants and when they become too tall, re-pot them into larger containers. Then in September, you can start covering them for 12-hour periods until you notice the top bracts beginning to turn color.
When the bracts start to change color you do not need to keep covering them every day.
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.