‘Finicky’ plants usher in arrival of holiday season

Published 12:01 am Monday, December 17, 2007

NATCHEZ — They are an inevitable sign the Christmas season has arrived, and this year is no different: whether red, pink, white or marbled, poinsettias have started to appear across the Miss-Lou.

Imported from Mexico in the 1820s, the poinsettia’s boldly colored pointed leaves — properly called bracts — have earned it the nickname of “Christmas star.”

Perhaps despite some perceptions due to their proliferation around Christmas, the poinsettia is not an easy plant to grow, Tom Smith with Fred’s Greenhouses and Garden Center said.

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Growing starts in August, when the plants arrive as seedlings.

“That’s when all the fun starts,” Smith said.

At Fred’s, the plants are grown in a greenhouse known as “the Cave,” Smith said, because of the limited light pollution it allows.

“They’re very finicky plants,” he said. “Even the headlights from cars could throw them off.”

And, after all that care, the plants still have to be forced to bloom as shrubs.

The poinsettia will naturally bloom upright — more like a small tree — and the nursery workers have to pinch off the plants at a certain point to make the bracts bloom in the popular “bushy” formation, Smith said.

Though they exude confident colors, the poinsettia needs certain conditions to survive even as an adult: temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and approximately 50 degrees Fahrenheit nighttime temperatures.

“They can’t handle the cold at all,” Live Oak nursery worker Kara Mathis said.

Likewise, when watering the plants, take extra precaution not to wet their leaves.

“Make sure to water them from the bottom,” Mathis said.

One way to do that is to set the plant’s pot in a tray that can hold water, she said.

Another way to water the plants safely is the “ice cube method,” Smith said.

That means placing two ice cubes in the plant’s pot every two days.

And though some may waffle on whether or not the plants are actually poisonous, Smith said to be careful about where the place the plant in regard to children and pets being able to reach it.

“We lean on the side of it being poisonous,” he said. “I’d rather be on the safe side versus the experimental side.”