Grow Poinsettias

Learn how to grow poinsettias that bloom every Christmas season.

Considered an indoor holiday plant, Poinsettias are native to Mexico and do well in tropical climates. As indoor plants they are quite easy to take care of and can be kept for weeks or months depending on the kind of care they receive and the variety you purchase. While most people throw away their plants after the holidays there is no reason a poinsettia cannot be kept and made to bloom year after year with special care.

The Plant

Poinsettias are memorable for their red bracts (modified leaves) that are often mistaken for flower petals. The actual flowers of the poinsettias are at the center of the bracts. Careful breeding has resulted in over 100 different varieties ranging from white to pink to a mixture of shades. These plants are a perennial flowering shrub growing up to ten feet tall in their natural habitat. Poinsettias contain a milky sap which is helpful in propagation which can be achieved with a cutting and some rooting hormone available at most home improvement stores. Contrary to popular myth, poinsettias are not poisonous.

Basic Care

When purchasing a poinsettia look for a plant where little or now yellow pollen is showing on the flower clusters. This indicates that the plant is fresh. Bring it home immediately well protected from the elements. Never leave poinsettias in a cold care as even brief exposure to cold may damage this tropical plant. Find a place in your home that is protected from both warm and cold drafts. Ideally poinsettias thrive at a daytime temperature between 60 and 70 degrees. Nighttime temperature of about 55 degrees is ideal. Keeping the temperature low at night will lengthen the plant's life. Check the soil daily and keep the plant in a well-drained pot. Water when the soil is dry. Only Fertilize (once a month with houseplant fertilizer) if you plan on keeping the plant past the holiday season.

Poinsettia Reflowering

After the holiday season is over (February or early March), cut back the plant to 4-6 inches in height. Fertilize with regular houseplant fertilizer about once a month and water as usual. Repot in late spring or early summer to a container about 2 inches larger. Make sure the soil is moist. Keep plant in a sunny window. You can also start new poinsettias using the cuttings and some rooting hormone. Dip the cuttings in the hormone powder and place in moist quality potting soil. Make sure the new plants are well watered.

The poinsettia can be placed outdoors after all danger of frost is over and the night temperature is above 60 degrees. If you put your plant outside, choose a shady place at first until the plant is acclimated to the sun. Plants get sunburn just as humans can. If you choose, you may sink the pot directly into a flower bed turning it about a quarter turn each week to prevent rooting through the bottom and promote even exposure to the sun. During the summer, fertilizer can be increased to once every two weeks. To encourage a bushy plant with lots of flowers, pinch or cut growing shoots to promote branching off every 3-4 weeks. Make sure you leave two or three large fully expanded leaves below the pinch. Continue this practice until mid-August.

Before the night temperatures fall below 55 degrees bring the poinsettia indoors to a sunny location preferably a southern window. Check for pests and remove any diseased portions of the plant. Reduce the amount of fertilizer at this time to once a month. To get the plant to flower you need to make sure the plant experiences short days and long nights. This means that during the night there must not be any light. One way to achieve this is to place the plant in a closet or basement (as long as it's not too cold) at night. You can also cover the plant with a heavy cloth or paper bag. Even short periods of light can interfere with flowering. Begin the dark period at 5PM every day beginning in late September or early October and ending in December. Dark periods must last12 hours for flowers to set. In 60 to 85 days (depending on the variety) the flowers should mature. During the day, give the poinsettia as much light as possible. Once the bracts are fully expanded dark periods are not as important but do still help with the plant growth and development.

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