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It's the leaves — not petals — of the nochebuena (aka poinsettia) that add that holiday color

Slender and long orange leaves on poinsettia flowers.
Ron and Patty Thomas
The leaves of these nochebuena — or poinsettia — plants are a peachy-orange color. Consider adding these along with more traditional red and white varieties to your holiday decorations.

The nochebuena plant flourishes in southern Mexico and Central America as a large shrub that was used by Aztecs for making dyes and medicines.

In the 1820s, while ambassador to Mexico for the United States, Joel Poinsett brought some cuttings of the plant back to his South Carolina home.

That began the popularity of what North Americans now know as the poinsettia, and its journey as a traditional holiday plant.

It's the plant's modified leaves, or bracts, that have color — not the petals. The leaves form color in response to shorter days.

This holiday season, look for a host of poinsettia colors at garden centers and grocery stores. Go beyond red and white and seek out pink, purple, burgundy, orange and yellow.

Some miniature poinsettias, like "J'Adore," have soft pink bracts. "Autumn Leaves" boasts burnt orange ones. Another variety called "Winter Rose" has a ruffled kind of look on the leaves. And t

here are many other varieties of poinsettia that only grow 3-5 inches tall.

Care for poinsettia plants by placing them in a cool room and in full sun. And, take off that foil wrapper! The colorful foil may look festive for the holidays but it impedes any water drainage. Keep the plant well-watered, but do let it dry out between watering.

After the holidays, toss the whole plant into the compost pile, or you can try to get it to bloom again next year!

That process is pretty rigid but if you're game, here's how: In spring, cut it way back and put the plant outside in a full-sun location. Keep it watered and fertilized and let it grow nice and bushy throughout the summer. Then, come September, bring the plant inside and place the poinsettia in a dark location for precisely 14 hours each night.

During the day, take the poinsettia out of its dark hiding place and place in the light. Repeat this process for four to six weeks until the bracts start turning colors.

Or, just purchase a new poinsettia next holiday season.

A final note: poinsettias get a bad reputation when it comes to poisoning pets, but the plant is actually not very toxic to animals. (Mistletoe, however, is another story.)

A listener question about what type of lavender grows best in Vermont

Q: I have a couple of different types of lavender in my garden beds. I have started to mulch them with woodchips and shavings, but I'm not sure how deep I need to mulch them to make sure I protect them. Any tips and what are the best lavender varieties for the area? — Sheryl, in Winooski

A: For our area, the English lavender "Munstead" is a good one. Choose to plant the lavender in a protected spot to grow, then in late fall, prune them way back and cover them — even go so far as to bury them — with woodchips. This helps to protect the crown of the lavender plant and help it overwinter, so it will grow back next spring.

All Things Gardening is powered by you, our audience! Send us your toughest conundrums and join the fun. Submit your written question via email, or better yet, leave a voicemail with your gardening question so we can use your voice on the air! Call Vermont Public at 1-800-639-2192.

Listen to All Things Gardening Sunday mornings at 9:35 a.m., and subscribe to the podcast to listen any time.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.