Tropical Paradise for Poinsettias

  • 01 of 08

    Poinsettia Shrub in a Hawaiian Garden

    Poinsettia Shrub in Hawaii
    Poinsettia Shrub in Hawaii. Photo Contributed by Susan.

    I wrote about caring for perennials at Christmas time and received a comment from a reader, Susan, who said she'd been growing poinsettia for 20 years and all she did to get them to rebloom was "...chop them back in the "A" months (April and Aug). If I cut the end of beginning of Aug. I get poinsettia flowers in full bloom for Thanksgiving, but if I wait until the end of Aug. I get the flowers for Xmas. Tourists always pull over in front of my house and take their pictures with my poinsettias as the back drop."

    Needless to say, we were all intrigued about where Susan was gardening. It turned out to be the Big Island of Hawaii in Kailua Kona. Lucky Susan and lucky poinsettias. Susan has graciously shared some photos of her poinsettia shrubs, as well as some equally festive Heliconia. Thanks, Susan.

    Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are heat loving plants that are native to Mexico. When I say heat loving, I mean they don't like it when the temperature drops below 60 degrees F. and won't grow at all if it dips below about 45 degrees. So to get a shrub like this, you need to be gardening in a Zone 11 or higher. If you are in a tropical paradise, you can expect your poinsettia plants to get to about 6 - 12' tall, with a spread of 5 - 8'.

    Continue to 2 of 8 below.
  • 02 of 08

    Getting a Perennial Poinsettia to Bloom

    Poinsettia Shrub in Bloom
    Poinsettia Shrub in Bloom. Photo Contributed by Susan.

    Even in an ideal climate, poinsettias bloom best with some pruning. Susan recommends cutting them back in the "A" months (April and August). That method has worked for her, for years, ensuring that her plant blooms at Christmastime. Your plant will probably still bloom for you, but it might not be during the holidays and the blooms will become progressively smaller or more sparse.

    A word of caution when pruning poinsettias or any Euphorbia: These plants secrete a milky sap that can be irritating to the skin. Use care when pruning or handing the plants. Wear gloves, if you are susceptible and always wash your hands afterwards.

    Continue to 3 of 8 below.
  • 03 of 08

    Poinsettia as a Perennial

    Poinsettia as a Perennial
    Poinsettia as a Perennial. Photo Contributed by Susan.

    Don't be intimidated about pruning. Cutting back and thinning the older branches will result in larger blossoms. If you simply deadhead the old blooms or do minimal pruning, you'll get smaller bracts.

    The red "flowers" aren't really flowers, they're bracts or specialized leaves that are usually located under the actual flower. When plants have insignificant flowers, they often develop colorful bracts surrounding the flowers, to help attract bees and other pollinators to the hard to find flowers. Bougainvillea and Kousa Dogwood are 2 other examples of flowers that are actually bracts. Even though the red Poinsettia bracts aren't really flowers, they make a wonderful display.

    Continue to 4 of 8 below.
  • 04 of 08

    Check Out This Poinsettia Shrub's Woody Stems

    Poinsettia Shrub with Woody Stems
    Poinsettia Shrub with Woody Stems. Photo Contributed by Susan.

    You can tell Susan has had this plant for a long time, by looking at the size and woodiness of the stems. This plant is definitely a shrub. Thank you, Susan, for sharing these wonderful shots of your "tourist attraction".

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Red Heliconia Caribaea

    Red Heliconia Caribaea
    Red Heliconia Caribaea. Photo Contributed by Susan.

    Speaking of showy bracts, Susan also sent in some photos of her stunning Heliconias. Again, these are tropical plants. I haven’t grown them, but I’ve seen them on display I conservatories. I would love to happen upon them in someone’s yard like this.

    Heliconia caribaea are native to Barbados. They are repeat bloomers, from late spring into December. It’s common names are Lobster Claw and Parrot Beak, for obvious reasons.

    • USDA Zones: 11 and up.
    • Exposure: Full sun
    • Bloom Period: April to December
    • Mature Size: 9'-15'
    Continue to 6 of 8 below.
  • 06 of 08

    Yellow Heliconia caribaea

    Yellow Heliconia caribaea
    Yellow Heliconia caribaea. Photo Contributed by Susan.

    This is the yellow variety of Heliconia caribaea. This particular species commonly grows from 9 - 15'. They have big, banana-like leaves and long stalks with these colorful, nesting bracts. You can see in the background that Susan has quite the tropical jungle. She obviously takes good care of her plants. Heliconia are grown from rhizomes, which like a well drained soil. They’ll easily rot if left in wet soil. To prevent this, plant close to the soil surface.

    • USDA Zones: 11 and up.
    • Exposure: Full sun
    • Bloom Period: April to December
    • Mature Size: 9'-15'
    Continue to 7 of 8 below.
  • 07 of 08

    Heliconia wagneriana "Rainbow"

    Heliconia wagneriana "Rainbow"
    Heliconia wagneriana "Rainbow". Photo Contributed by Susan.

    Heliconia wagneriana "Rainbow" is also known as the Easter Heliconia. These colorful bracts are tinged in shades of red and pink and edged in pale yellow and green. They are more narrow than Heliconia caribaea. It’s another giant, though, topping out at about 13' tall. Heliconia wagneriana can take more shade than H. caribaea, but both species thrive in high humidity. I wish I could say the same for me.

    • USDA Zones: 9 - 12 (Rhizome will survive in Zone 8, with protection, but foliage will die back)
    • Exposure: Full sun to Partial Shade
    • Bloom Period: July to December, Longer in highest zones
    • Mature Size: 6-12', Grows taller in shade.
    Continue to 8 of 8 below.
  • 08 of 08

    Heliconia collinsiana

    Heliconia collinsiana
    Heliconia collinsiana. Photo Contributed by Susan.

    Here’s a rather exotic Heliconia, Heliconia collinsiana . You can actually see the true yellow flowers poking out from under the red bracts. Unlike some of the Heliconia species, H. collinsiana is well behaved in the garden and stays in a nice clump. All the Heliconias are heavy feeders, which is to be expected in a plant this size.

    • USDA Zones: 10 - 12 Exposure:
    • Full Sun to part shade
    • Bloom Period: Late Spring / Summer, Almost year round in warmer areas.
    • Mature Size: 8 – 10 feet, Grows tallest in the shade.

    Thank you again, Susan, for sharing these photos with us. Most of us never see these plants, except in glass houses.