The prettiest poinsettias require persistent care

12/02/2011 5:00 AM

12/03/2011 8:34 AM

Poinsettias grow like hedges in their native Mexico, Jerry DeRee of Dutch’s Greenhouse said recently at a lunchtime lecture at Botanica.

When they’re grown in Wichita, they are, shall we say, a bit more challenged. But potted up they’re looking gorgeous in garden centers around town, including Dutch’s, which grows its own.

A new variety there this year: Ruby Frost. I like how Rachel Westmoreland of Dutch’s describes it: pink with creamy white frosting on top. The bracts – the colorful part of the plant – are deeply toothed.

Poinsettias are not the easiest thing to grow, Jerry told a fascinated Botanica crowd. Picture the process beginning the third week of July. That’s when Dutch’s gets unrooted cuttings from Ecke Ranch in California. They’re rooted in Oasis floral foam under constant misting for two weeks. They set roots in two to three weeks, and then the new little plantlets are potted up the first or second week of August. Dutch’s uses clay pots for good root volume and breathability so the roots don’t get funguses. Seventy percent of Dutch’s poinsettias go to churches, and the clay pots also sit better on display, Jerry said.

After two weeks, the tops are pinched out of the plants to get them to branch and fill out. Dutch’s sells the plants based on how many pinches they have had.

Two to three weeks after potting, the plants are given high-nitrogen 23-0-7 food five days in a row, followed by a couple of days to flush the salts out, then the plants get a new product, a 17-0-2 finisher that contains metals to bring the color out.

Enemies of the greenhouse poinsettia include whitefly and root rot. A granular systemic insecticide is applied to the 7,500 plants, and they’re also treated to fogging and drenches. Chemicals have to be rotated from time to time to keep them effective. "It’s very expensive," Jerry said.

In addition to the outside influences, "sun is very important," Jerry said. If clouds persist for two to three days, the plants don’t do much. But when the sun reappears, they "explode."

The plants start coloring around mid-October. "Every day you can see it get brighter," Jerry said of the greenhouse then. "Every year we say our prayers and hold our breath."

That’s because, even though the plants are in the greenhouse, weather and other things affect them. In this past summer’s heat, the plants were sprayed with growth regulator every three days to keep them down. Otherwise they would have been three times as tall as well as weak, Jerry said.

"Last year was totally different," he said. "We had to give them something to stretch and grow."

When shopping for poinsettias, Jerry advised looking at the cluster of yellow flowers, called cyathia, in the middle of a cluster of bracts. Make sure these cyathia are not totally bloomed out, because that means the plant’s colorful show has reached maturity.

Here’s a sampler of popular varieties at Dutch’s:

•  Prestige Red: A sturdy red that holds its color.
•  Tapestry: In its third year, a red that’s popular for its variegated green and yellow leaves.
•  Ice Punch: Cranberry red bracts mixed with a frosty white center. "We sell every one we can grow," Jerry said. The breeder sets limits on the numbers of those.
•  Ice Crystals: A pretty pink with a whitish center, short this year because it is not as aggressive a grower as some of the others, so needs to be started earlier.
•  Shimmer Surprise: Has sold out quickly in the past. It is a bright red flecked with cream.

For those who can’t decide, Dutch’s sells combinations of red, pink and white poinsettias in one pot.

In the old days, poinsettias used to fold at the whiff of cold weather, Jerry said. Today’s plants are much more sturdy, but it’s best to cover them if taking them out of a store or on the road to Grandma’s house when the temperature is below 50. Remember Mexico.

Come carol with me

I’ll be caroling with my fellow Eagle "singers" Tuesday at The Eagle’s holiday open house. Come over between 5 and 7:30 p.m. and tour the newspaper building, get a family portrait taken, visit Santa, let the children take part in activities, try to win prizes and enjoy some refreshments. If you give me a story tip, I’ll give you a solo part in "O Holy Night."

About Annie Calovich

Annie writes about home and garden, including her Bit of Earth column on Saturdays. She has been at The Eagle since 1985, working as a copy editor, a nation/world editor and a reporter. She’s a KU graduate who started out at The Coffeyville Journal.

Contact Annie at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com

Follow Annie on Twitter: @AnnieCalovich

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