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  • Writer's pictureMike Roberts

Caring for Poinsettias

Nothing says Christmas like brilliant red poinsettias. Also available in other colors, these tropical plants can spread cheer throughout the holidays and beyond if you care for them properly. Here’s how to keep these festive plants merry and bright.

Buying poinsettias

To keep poinsettias blooming into the new year, be sure to choose healthy plants. The yellow buds in the center of the bracts — the brightly colored leaves — should be tightly closed, and the foliage should be green and unwithered. Poinsettias can pick up pests in commercial greenhouses, so check for bugs.

Because these plants are tropical, insulate them against temperatures below 50 degrees when carrying them to your car, and take them straight home after buying.

Caring for poinsettias

The keys to keeping poinsettias healthy throughout the holidays are keeping the plants in an appropriate area and watering them properly.

Poinsettias need at least six hours a day of indirect sunlight from a window on the southern, eastern or western side of your home. They thrive in daytime temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees. At night, make sure the temperature where you keep your poinsettias doesn’t drop below around 60. Keep the plants away from cold drafts.

Water poinsettias whenever the surface of their soil feels dry, but don’t drown them. It’s better to water a little every few days than a lot infrequently. Good drainage is also important. Don’t leave water standing in the pot’s saucer. Poinsettia pots often come wrapped in foil. Remove this to promote good drainage. Repotting your plants with gravel in the bottom of the pot will also help keep roots dry. Poinsettias don’t like a dry house, so run a humidifier or mist them with water if needed.

If leaves are turning yellow or dropping you are either watering too much or too little. Placing the plants too near a draft or cold window or keeping their room too warm or dry can also cause leaf drop.

Keeping your poinsettias growing

If you care for them properly, your poinsettias should last two to three months. It’s also possible to keep the plants growing to rebloom next year. The process of regrowing poinsettias is labor intensive, however, and the resulting plants will not be as showy as those grown in a professional greenhouse.

If you want to try your hand at keeping your poinsettias growing for the following winter, take the following steps.

  • In the spring, perhaps April, let the plant begin to dry out. When all the leaves and bracts — the brightly colored leaves — have fallen, move the plant to a dry, dark place.

  • In mid-May, repot the plant in a slightly larger container and cut the stems to four to six inches. Relocate the plant to a warm spot with good light, and water until the soil is moist but not soggy. If you live in a subtropical climate, you can plant poinsettias outside in June. Fertilize every two to four weeks.

  • Pinch back the stems in July and August to promote fuller growth.

  • To have blooms by Christmas, begin keeping the plant in darkness around October 1 from late afternoon until morning. Poinsettias must have total darkness at least 14 hours a day for at least six weeks to rebloom. To accomplish this, place the plant in a closet that gets no light or cover it with a cardboard box. During this period, make sure the poinsettia gets at least six hours of sunlight during the day.

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