How to Save a Poinsettia for Next Christmas
Given the relatively low cost of the poinsettias, many prefer to toss them out with the Christmas tree or add them to the compost pile after the holidays. If you are one of those people, read no further. If, on the other hand, you really enjoy a gardening challenge and tend to think of your plants almost as pets, then consider pampering your poinsettias through the seasons. When you see last year’s plants produce showy new blooms, you will get a self-satisfaction that is priceless. Indoor houseplants consume carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, which can be beneficial to your home's air quality.
Re-blooming a poinsettia for next Christmas is a challenge that will bring you great satisfaction.
How to Care for Poinsettias
Poinsettia care should begin immediately. Before purchasing, shop for healthy-looking plants that have been kept away from drafts and excessive heat. Touch the soil and make sure it is neither too wet or overly dry. Take care not to give your new plants a cold ride home if you are in an area with a chilly climate.
Poinsettias are usually sold with the containers wrapped in colorful foil. Remove the wrapper as soon as you get home to allow for proper drainage. Place your new plants in a sunny location. Avoid areas with high heat and cold drafts. Because they are tropical plants, they crave humidity. Place them on a tray of wet pebbles and spritz them with a water sprayer daily. Keep the soil moderately moist.
Although the Poinsettia leaf is not deadly, place it where you can monitor small children and pets around it. Ingesting enough of it can induce gastrointestinal distress.
After-Christmas Care for Poinsettias
Continue to keep your poinsettias in a place with plenty of light and water as directed above. The plants will enter a dormancy period and will begin to lose leaves—this is normal. Do watch for shriveled brown stems, which are an indication that your lovely Christmas flower may be dying a slow death.
At this point, move your poinsettias to a good "resting place" that is a little cooler and gets a little less sunlight. Water them only when they are dry and do not fertilize them. Continue to keep them away from drafts and high heat.
Continue to let your plants lose leaves naturally. Next, cut back all the branches to a few inches above the soil line (two to four inches should be appropriate). Leave two or three leaves on the old stems, as new growth comes from buds on the leaf. The actual flower of the poinsettia is the yellow middle. The colored leaves are called bracts.
Winter Care for Indoor Poinsettias
Around Valentine’s Day, start fertilizing your plants every two weeks and provide them with a little more sunlight. Keep in mind that you are trying to recreate a desert winter. Keep the temperature around 60–68 degrees Fahrenheit.
When to Move Poinsettia Outside
Spring is in the air! You have gotten your Christmas poinsettias safely through the long, cold winter without over or under watering and have avoided cold drafts and hot heaters. Congratulations! By now you should have begun to form a relationship with your plants.
When the nighttime temperature stays consistently around 60 degrees Fahrenheit, it is time for your floral friends to go outside and enjoy the spring. It is probably also time for a bigger pot. Be sure to choose a pot that will continue to allow for proper drainage, such as a terracotta with drainage holes in the bottom. Use a sterile, lightweight soil that is slightly acidic. Garden soil will cause root-rot and you will lose your friends. Be sure to place them where they will receive plenty of indirect sunlight. By now you have really become protective of these plants that you have nurtured. Should a blackberry winter occur and the temperature dip temporarily, you will want to cover them with a cloth like an old bedsheet.
Spring and Summer Poinsettia Care
Keep your Poinsettias cut back to around eight inches in height as the spring months continue. Keep fertilizing every two weeks with a good water-soluble all-purpose fertilizer. You should begin to see plenty of new growth by May.
As spring turns to summer, you will enjoy watching your friends flourish and grow. Now is the time for selective pruning. Decide whether you prefer a bushier plant with more and smaller bracts or a slightly "leggier" plant with fewer but larger bracts. Pinch the tips of the new growth often for the bushier look and less often for bigger blossoms. In either case, stop pruning by Labor Day.
Summer is also the time to help your friends propagate. Take cuttings that have three to four "eyes" and dip them in a rooting hormone. For best results, use a terrarium-type container to maintain high humidity and light. The cuttings should take root in three to four weeks. As your little "grandchildren" grow, give them the same care as your adult poinsettia.
Fall Care for Poinsettia
Bring your poinsettia back indoors on October 1st. It’s time to trick your friend into thinking that the days are short and the nights are long and cool. You will do this by placing them in total darkness for 14 hours out of the day. Do this by placing them in a very dark and cool place for those 14 hours, and do it for 40 days. The most common mistake made is putting them where even just a little light can seep in or by turning on a light for just a few seconds. Even a little light will totally confuse them. Consider covering them with a black box inside the closet or basement.
The dark time temperature for this period is between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. For the 10 hours of daylight, place them in a sunny window at around 70 degrees. Remember to be consistent and not to skip a single day. If you take any overnight trips, get a friend or neighbor to "plant-sit" for you.
Re-Blooming Your Poinsettia
You have cared for your poinsettias almost a whole year now. You have kept the soil evenly moist and provided plenty of light and humidity. You have lovingly nurtured them outdoors and indoors. You’ve even tricked them into thinking they were experiencing short days and long nights. Beginning around Thanksgiving and just in time for the holiday season, you should be rewarded with showy, colorful blooms once again (if you have done your job correctly).
This lovely cycle can continue as long as you like. And don’t forget about the "babies" you helped propagate. What great gifts they will make when your friends and neighbors realize that you grew them yourself!
History of the Poinsettia
The poinsettia is from the deserts of Mexico. It was introduced to the States by US Ambassador Joel Robert Poinsett after he discovered them growing wild in parts of Mexico in 1825. Since then, many different varieties have been developed. Currently, over 65 million have been sold. The once-popular notion that they are highly poisonous has been discounted, but the sap can cause allergic reactions in some. Ingesting the leaves can cause intestinal distress.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.