Metro-East Living

Get your poinsettia ready to bloom for the holidays

The best time to condition your poinsettia to bloom for the Christmas holidays is within the first 10 days of October.
The best time to condition your poinsettia to bloom for the Christmas holidays is within the first 10 days of October.

Q: I have messed up the past three years on trying to re-bloom my poinsettia plant and have not been successful. Please give me some help.

K. S., of Belleville

A: You are asking this question at just the correct time. Another month later, you would have failed because you would be trying to set up the conditions too late. The best time to condition your poinsettia to bloom for the Christmas holidays is within the first 10 days of October.

There are many poinsettia varieties available. Some are conditioned by long dark periods to initiate bud formation. Others are conditioned by cool nights. But all varieties will bloom again with long dark night conditions and short days. They need at least 15 hours of darkness.

A suggested schedule would be from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. Any interruption of this dark period can delay the setting of the flowers. Opening a closet door and letting in dim light can delay the flowering process. During the light period, these plants should receive bright sunlight. Once you notice the small bracts (the top leaves) of the poinsettia turning color, you can discontinue this dark treatment (usually in late November or early December).

Q: I bought a shell vine plant from a mail-order nursery and just love this colorful plant. Why don’t any of the greenhouses or nurseries grow and sell them here? It has grown very well this entire summer.

C.K., of Belleville

A: Vigna caracalla (commonly known as the climbing shell vine, or corkscrew vine or snail flower) is not sold in our area of Plant Zone 6. This plant is hardy throughout the year only in Plant Zones 9 and 10, which is southern Florida, southern Texas and California.

Most plant distributors and growers do not market them in our area because they are not hardy all year long without very special treatment. This plant needs to be grown in a larger container to over-winter them. This is a vining plant that can grow up to 20 feet when conditions are right. This plant has a very beautiful array of of pink, purples, white, and yellow flowers. The flowers are very fragrant and attract butterflies.

When they are finished blooming, you can save the seeds and nick their seed coat to get them to germinate. But remember, these plants are slightly poisonous.

Q: I would like to force hardy bulbs of tulips. How do I do this?

D. B., of Madison

A: You can force almost all of the hardy bulbs — from tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocus to snowdrops and grape hyacinths. Plant the larger bulbs so the top of the bulbs extend just above the soil. The smaller bulbs need to be covered with about an inch of soil. These bulbs then need to be cooled to between 40 and 50 degrees for at least 10 to 13 weeks, but can be stored longer if you want them to bloom later.

Some people remove pots every two weeks. When the bulbs begin to flower, keep them in a cool location, away from heat vents and direct sunlight. After the flowers fade, you can plant them outside, but it will take at least two years for the bulbs to bloom again and the flowers will be small.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Maureen Houston, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to

Do it now

  • Remove all plant debris from the vegetable garden and flower beds so that diseases and insects will not over-winter.