Christmas truly is a magical time of year. It must be sorcery that gives people the extra oomph to be able to get all the little tasks associated with the holidays finished.

Maybe it's the ghost of Christmas “Get ‘Er Done” that nudges us along. If you ask people their favorite part of the holiday season, you will get a jolly long list, with shopping ranking dead last.

There is some shopping that I don’t mind beside the shopping I do online in the comfort of my big cushy chair. One of those exceptions is loading my cart with poinsettias.

Poinsettias have a relatively short bloom time. The maximum beauty of the plant lasts between 2-4 weeks, but purchasing the right plant and giving it some TLC can help lengthen the time to as long as 8 weeks. It is a perennial plant that can last for years, but needs to be properly cared for during the offseason to encourage it to rebloom.

Select a healthy plant that has fully colored bracts (the red petals) with flowers (situated in the center of the bracts and are green or yellow) that are just starting to open, or ideally, with flower buds that are slightly closed. The more mature the flower, the less time the plant will maintain its good looks.

The plant should be bushy with dark green leaves that grow from the bracts to the base of the plant. It should be sturdy and able to stand upright on its own without the help of cages or stakes. The leaves should be free of insects and signs of disease.

Plants that appear to wilt when wet should be passed over. This is a condition known as epinasty, from which the poinsettia will not recover.

After you get your poinsettia home, place it in bright, but not direct, sunlight. Direct sunlight can cause the bracts to lose their color; too much shade can cause the leaves to fall.

If you want the plant to make a statement in a location that does not have optimal light, you may want to consider maintaining the plant where it will thrive and moving it when you want it on display.

Poinsettias prefer moderately moist soil, never allowing the plant to completely dry out or sit in standing water. They do not tolerate extreme temperature changes and are most comfortable in temps less than 70 degrees. Keep away from cold windows, drafts and heater vents.

After the bracts have fallen, you have two choices — discard the plant or step to the challenge of bring her back the following year. If you choose the latter, the following steps should be followed:

• Decrease watering, but do not allow the plant to completely dry out;

• Relocate to a cool, dark place until spring;

• Fertilize with a complete houseplant fertilizer at least once per month;

• In spring, cut back to 6 to 8 inches, place in a sunny spot and water thoroughly;

• If necessary, repot in June;

• Pinch tips through mid-August to encourage the plant to become bushy;

• In fall, before temps drop, bring the poinsettia indoors;

• Starting Oct. 1, place the poinsettia in complete darkness from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. for 8-10 weeks. Make sure the plant does not receive more than 10 hours of daylight during this time; and

• It should not be exposed to any light whatsoever during the night hours. During daylight hours, place the plant in bright, indirect sunlight.

If all is successful, you will have a beautiful poinsettia to display year after year. Until next week, happy gardening.

— For information on topics related to the home and garden, contact any office of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. The Limestone County Office is located at 1109 West Market St. in Athens. Office hours are 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, visit www.aces.edu or call 256-232-5510.

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