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Producing a pretty poinsettia isn't easy

leaf December 1996

From Correspondent Ed Garsten

EAST LANSING, Michigan (CNN) -- Ruby red, pink and white, brilliant and festive, poinsettia plants delight as they ignite in color each holiday season. The plant is a Christmas gift from nature with a lot of careful human assistance.

A new computer program developed by Michigan State University eliminates the tricky guess work in growing poinsettias. It is called the Greenhouse Care System, used to grow 80 percent of the poinsettia crop in the United States.

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The program plots growth curves, telling the grower what to do in order to have plants that flower at 18 inches or 22 inches or whatever is desired.

The program, which costs about $1,000, helps growers figure out which course to take to adjust growth.

"Sometimes they'll use growth retardants," explained horticulture professor Will Carlson. "Adjusting temperature can also make a difference."

For grower George Van Atta, using the electronic greenhouse has made quite a difference.

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"It's a great tool to monitor and control your heights," he said. "You can adjust through the season -- do what you need to do to produce the best crop possible."

Here's what Carlson says to look for when you shop for poinsettias:

  • a dark green foliage color;

  • free from insects and diseases;

  • a large bract (the leaves just beneath the flower). "Because this is a colored leaf, the flower is the center portion ... and you should be able to start to see a little yellow from the flower," said Carlson.

Keep your poinsettia plants between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit and in the dark for 14 hours a day, seven to eight weeks before you want them to flower.

It's true, said Carlson, that poinsettias are high-maintenance. But they're bloomin' worth it.


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