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Alaska-grown poinsettias are among the nation’s best

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: November 8
  • Published November 8

It is amazing that a plant sold for only about 45 days a year can be the second most popular plant in the country. Such is the case with poinsettias.

Only orchids are more popular, but there are any number of species of them. There is only one basic poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima).

(Getty Images)

We are blessed here in Anchorage with at least two greenhouses that grow poinsettias for the Alaska market. They are fantastic at what they do, and the plants we get in Alaska really are among the best in the country. There surely are not many places that can claim "fresher" plants for sale.

November is when we start seeing poinsettias. Every year there are new kinds as breeders are continually trying to improve the plant as well as add varieties. Improvements include getting plants to hold onto leaves and bracts (the red flower-like leaf structures associated with these plants) longer and making them bushier.

All manner of new varieties with different colored and patterned flowers will be introduced this year. Not satisfied with red, we have to have candy-cane colors and white bracts. I am sure someone is working on orange ones so we can have Halloween poinsettias.

Given the plants' popularity, there is a good bet you will either buy one or more yourself or you will receive one or more as a holiday gift. Just as I like to give out instructions early for what to do when we have a hard freeze, here are instructions on buying and keeping alive your poinsettia plants.

First, buying a poinsettia around here is never really difficult because, as mentioned, most come from right around the corner. That means they are usually in very good shape, unless for some reason the store selling them hasn't paid attention. Still, it never hurts to inspect a few plants to make sure you are getting a nice full one.

Bracts should be full of color (or not if they are the white ones). What you really want to find, however, are cyathia, essentially a flower cluster, in the center of the plant's bracts. The cyathium is an interesting structure, worthy of a look with a hand lens or magnifying glass. There are female and male flowers in each.

A very fresh poinsettia's cyathia will be made up of green balls as they have not opened. In other words, the plants have not started to flower yet. A very ripe poinsettia will have open cyathia, and they will exhibit yellow pollen. This time of year, go for the closed cyathia if you can find any.

Leaves of any plant you buy should be nice and green. No yellowing is allowed. Look under and around the plant to see if there has been a lot of leaf drop. If so, you may want to consider buying where they take better care of the plants.

Poinsettias do not like drafts. Keep them away from air vents and doorways that are opened all the time. The biggest problems with keeping poinsettias, however, are overwatering and the wrong temperatures.

These are really no different than other plants. (And why should they be?) Watering is easy. Keep the plants slightly moist as in a fresh piece of cake, not wet like in a fresh piece of pie. Stick your finger into the soil to figure this out.

If temperatures are kept between 55 and 65 degrees at night and no more than 70 during the day, you will have plants that will last through the holidays. Anything lower than 55 degrees and you will start to see damage in the leaves, as you will with too-high temperatures. Swings in temperature are also problematic. These will cause poinsettias to drop leaves as they will in a draft.

You will not have to feed your plant. The nursery that grew it did that for you. You might want to pull those traditional aluminum pot covers as they don't let the water drain out. If you do keep them, make sure they have  holes in the bottom.

That's about it. Easy. Just make sure you don't set things off in the wrong direction when you bring your plants home. Warm the car first.

Alaska Garden Calendar

SNAKES: Yes, there was a mistake in last week's calendar. The botanical garden does not serve up "nutritious snakes" to campers. Oops. And you thought I wasn't human!

ALASKA BOTANICAL GARDEN: New this year is the garden's first holiday lighting. Come see the lights every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, plus this year, a New Year's Eve bash. Guided stargazing on Thursdays. More information here.

FUNCTIONAL ART QUILTS SHOW: Today and Saturday, solo show by Elise Rose, a fundraiser out at the Alaska Botanical Garden.

BULBS: Can you still plant? If you can work the soil, you can plant spring-flowering bulbs.

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