Tips on helping poinsettia plants thrive through the holidays.

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You’ve brought home one of those irresistible potted poinsettias or received one as a gift. How do you keep it beautiful through the holidays?

Today’s poinsettias can last longer than ever, often for months. To help yours stay pretty, follow this advice from Ron Wolford, creator of the Poinsettia Pages:

• Place your poinsettia in indirect light after bringing it home. Poinsettias need six hours of light daily (fluorescent light will work).

• Keep your plant away from cold windows, warm or cold drafts from furnaces or air conditioners, and open doors and windows.

• Poinsettias do best at daytime temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees. Higher temperatures will shorten the plant’s life.

• Check the soil daily. Punch holes in the pot’s foil cover so water can drain into a saucer. Water the plant when the soil is dry. Allow water to drain into the saucer and discard excess. Wilted plants will tend to drop bracts sooner.

• Don’t fertilize poinsettias while in bloom. If kept past the holiday season, apply a houseplant fertilizer once a month.

• New varieties of poinsettias last longer. It’s not uncommon for poinsettias to retain their bracts for several months.

For more tips, go to: http://urbanext.illinois.edu/ poinsettia/index.cfm

Key pointers on poinsettias

• The poinsettia, a tropical shrub, grows natively in Mexico and Central America. The Aztecs called it cuetlaxochitl or “star flower.” The red petals — actually bracts or modified leaves — were used for dye.

• Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, is credited with introducing the plant to this country in 1828. He raised the plants in his South Carolina greenhouse and gave them to friends. National Poinsettia Day is celebrated Dec. 12, the anniversary of Poinsett’s death.

• The red or otherwise colored bracts frame the plant’s actual flowers, which appear as yellow clusters at the center of the bracts. The plant drops its bracts and leaves soon after those flowers shed their pollen. For the longest-lasting poinsettias, choose plants with little or no yellow pollen showing.

• Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous to humans or pets.

• Poinsettias are not frost-tolerant. They will grow outdoors in temperate coastal climates, such as Southern California beach communities. In the ground, they can reach 10 feet tall.

• Paul Ecke Ranch (www.ecke.com) in San Diego County is the world’s leading poinsettia hybridizer.

Want a rebloom next year?

Poinsettias need at least 14 hours of complete darkness each night for six to 10 weeks to trigger bloom. If you manage to keep your potted poinsettia alive until next fall, you can trick it into bloom. Every night, place a lightproof bag over the plant or put it in a closet to force the bloom in time for Christmas.