Fielding Questions: How can I coax my poinsettia to bloom? – InForum

Q: I have a poinsettia plant that I have kept alive for three years. It is beautiful and spends the summers outside. Is there a way to force them to bloom? – Hope W

A: The poinsettia looks wonderfully healthy! The inner leaf-like “sheaths” of poinsettias change color in response to shorter day length, which naturally happens as our days get shorter. That’s why they bloom in their native frost-free outdoor habitat during the short days of the winter season.

Normally, indoor poinsettias will eventually flower on their own during the long, dark nights of winter, but only if they aren’t receiving indoor light from a room, which leads the poinsettia to think the days are still long and prevents flowering.

If the poinsettia is in a room that stays dark all evening and night, they will start coloring on their own sometime in December or January. To achieve bright color for the holiday season, commercial greenhouse growers “force” poinsettias to flower until late November or early December by providing long dark nights, secured by blackout curtains or other devices to keep extraneous light out of the greenhouse .

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We can follow the poinsettia growers’ pattern and force the plants to bloom in our homes until Christmas by dimming the plants every evening from about 5pm until about 7 or 8am the next morning from late September until they are well colored .

The long, dark night can be achieved by placing the plant in a dark cupboard each evening and back by a sunny window the next morning, or by covering it with a black garbage bag or box each evening and exposing it the next morning. It’s important to give the plants their daily time in a sunny window. The daily cycle of pitch black, dark nights and sunny days continues until the plant is well colored, at which point the plant can be treated like any other houseplant.

Q: I got a barrel of grass clippings from a neighbor. Your lawn has been sprayed against weeds and I know you said not to use that for mulching or compost. Is there a period of time after which the chemical would be dormant and the clippings could be safely used for mulching or composting? -Martha B

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A: How long herbicides remain on lawn clippings depends on which herbicide was used. Some herbicides break down very, very slowly on the material to which they are applied, and such persistent herbicides can retain their herbicide effects on grass clippings for years.

Herbicides used on lawns are called “broadleaf herbicides,” which are formulated to kill weeds like dandelions without harming grass plants. Herbicide residues left on grass clippings can damage “good” foliage plants like vegetables and flowers when the grass clippings are used as mulch on gardens and flower beds. Some herbicides even persist in compost made from lawn clippings.

Although some lawn herbicides break down faster than others, the product applied is often unknown and this is what makes using herbicide-treated grass clippings so unpredictable and potentially harmful. To avoid the heartache of incorporating residues of harmful chemicals in gardens, it’s generally not recommended to use herbicide-treated lawn clippings as mulch or incorporate them into compost.

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Q: Our horse chestnut was planted and staked in 2021. I left the stakes in place this year after the crazy windy spring we had. I wonder if it’s time to remove the stakes and let it stand alone. What do you recommend? -Dean H

A: The usual recommendation is to leave the stakes in place for one growing season, two at most, and then remove them. It sounds like it’s time to ditch them from your horse chestnut, which by the way is a great tree choice for the upper Midwest.

Winter winds are usually less of a factor on a tree’s bare branches when the foliage is gone, so you might wait until the stakes are removed when the leaves have fallen after a few frosts.

If you have a garden or lawn maintenance question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at

[email protected]

. Questions with broad appeal may be posted, so please include your name, city, and state in order to receive proper advice.

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