It’s the most wonderful time of the year… no other celebration creates such a sense of holiday at home as Christmas. And for households across Europe, the festive season wouldn’t be complete without a gorgeous poinsettia gracing the living room. These iconic symbols of Christmas are arriving at stores nationwide and are guaranteed to fly off shelves – but how do growers ensure that plants are topped with beautiful coloured bracts at precisely the right time?
Whether your poinsettia is sporting traditional Christmassy red, icy white shades, delicate tones of pink or contemporary marbled bicolour hues, these awe-inspiring colours are the result of precision growing by professionals – a sophisticated operation that has been honed over the years to run like a well-oiled machine, ensuring that the upper rosettes of poinsettias’ leaves transform from green to shades of vibrant colours in the run-up to the festive season.
Once it reaches your home it’s easy to keep your poinsettia looking beautiful, but for the growers who nurture them from young, creating this splash of Christmas colour every December is a best-kept secret. Now, Stars for Europe, the poinsettia expert group, is providing an insight into how the professionals achieve such a formidable crop against all odds every winter.
Poinsettias are plants that are defined as photoperiodic. Put simply, they respond to natural changes in varying lengths of daylight and darkness, the result being wonderfully coloured bracts initiated by winter’s shorter days. To ensure perfect colouring ahead of the festive season, plants are usually restricted to less than 12 hours of daylight, with growers plunging poinsettias into darkness by excluding all sources of light for the remainder of each 24-hour period.
The specialist skill doesn’t end there! To arrive at stores in tip-top condition, plants growing at commercial nurseries need to be kept snug, at average temperatures of a round 18°C, which helps poinsettias to colour-up nicely. Growers also use specialist techniques to carefully regulate the height of plants destined for store shelves: this keeps poinsettias neat and compact.
With professional growers doing all the hard work before the run-up to Christmas, by the time poinsettias grace the shop shelves it’s easy to keep them looking their prime. Just follow these five simple tips for a healthy plant that’ll provide months of joy and colour.
1) Poinsettias relish warm winter environments, so choose plants at their prime located well inside stores, rather any positioned near chilly store entrances, as poinsettias dislike cold draughts.
2) Look for plants with rich, even green leaves and vibrantly coloured bracts. A healthy poinsettia shouldn’t show signs of leaf yellowing or leaf drop, so look carefully. If you can, ask the checkout operator to wrap the plant in paper so it can be kept snug on the journey home, or wrap it up in something yourself. Never leave poinsettias in a freezing car while you head off to do other Christmas shopping, as these plants dislike sudden plunges in temperature and can sulk if exposed to winter cold.
3) Christmas cards dropping through letterboxes are likely to depict red-topped poinsettias sat next to a fireplace in idyllic festive displays. But in fact, blazing heat is the worst possible environment – Christmassy as it may look, it’s best to site poinsettias away from open fires, log burners and radiators. To keep poinsettias healthy, choose a warm, bright, well-lit position – filtered light is preferential to direct sunlight, and in a spot that’s free from cold draughts. Plants will reward you with a longer lasting display if temperatures aren’t allowed to drop lower than 13°C.
4) Poinsettias are easy to grow and maintain, but overwatering is the biggest mistake that owners commonly make. Watering sparingly is the key to success: only water when the surface of the compost has almost dried out. Don’t leave poinsettias with their pots sat in saucers of water, as plants left in saturated compost are at increased risk of root rot problems.
5) Centrally heated homes offer the dry, snug environment that we all crave during freezing months of the year – great for humans, but not so beneficial for indoor plants that enjoy higher levels of humidity.
To extend the life of your poinsettia, keep them away from direct sources of heat and airflows. If your home has very low humidity, fill a hand-sprayer with tepid tap water and mist only the leaves regularly, avoiding the central cluster of small flowers – it’ll help to keep displays going at full steam into the New Year.