Poinsettia, the traditional Christmas plant, has come a long way in the past decade. It used to stay attractive in the home for only about a week. Now, given a little bit of proper care, it may last all winter.

There has been something new in poinsettias almost every year. This year it's the Poinsettia Christmas tree, developed by the Paul Ecke Poinsettia Ranch, Encinitas, California. It grows on a single stem, reaching a height of 30 to 36 inches. Ecke says it took him five years to develop. It's only in red now, but he hopes eventually to have it in white and pink. Only a few are available for purchase this year; there will be many more of them next year.

These are his recommendations for the care and feeding of poinsettias:

The poinsettia you buy should have a lot of attractive green foliage and a bract with bright color. The little yellow flowers in the center of the bracts tell you the plant is fresh.

When you get it home, it should be watered and placed in a lighted area immediately. Some plants need watering every day, others not so often. Water thoroughly, with room temperature water, when the soil feels dry to the touch. After 15 minutes, empty the saucer of water that has drained out.

Full daylight is best for the plant, but not direct sun. Poinsettias like cooler temperatures, low 70s in the daytime and low 60s at night. Be careful of drafts and sudden temperature changes. Do not put it near the television set: The heat is very hard on the poinsettia and will shorten its life.

If you wish to grow the plant for another season, you will probably want to shape it. Cut back the original stem to about four to six inches above the soil level, removing the old flowers and most of the side branches. This is usually done in late March or early April.

It may be best to repot the plant into a larger container. A flowerpot one or two sizes larger is suggested. Shake off loose soil from the root ball, exposing root tips. This helps stimulate new root growth. Use pre-mixed potting soil or make your own by mixing two parts good garden soil with one part peat moss and one part vermiculite, perlite or sand.

After night temperatures are above 50 degrees F., the poinsettia pot can be sunk to the rim in the ground of a well-drained, slightly shaded location outdoors.

The plant should be fertilized regularly throughout the growing season, and then reduced to about half during the flowering season. Q: My grandfather used to build potato hills to store his sweet potatoes during the winter. Sometimes they would keep and sometimes not. Is there a way to keep them from rotting? A: They need to be cured. Let them dry in the sun for three hours, then put them in baskets lined with paper and store for two or three weeks at 80 degrees to 85 degrees F. Then put them in the potato hill where the temperature should not go below 50 degrees to avoid chilling injury. Q: We have a wisteria that never blooms although its neighbor does. What fertilizer can I use to get blooms instead of foliage? A: Wisteria started as a sucker from a blooming plant may not bloom for 15 to 20 years. The same is true for the old-fashioned lilac. Too much nitrogen fertilizer also inhibits blooming.