Best Ways to Care for Poinsettias
Aside from a Christmas tree, nothing says “holidays” like a poinsettia. A beloved holiday tradition both for decoration and gift giving, poinsettias also make attractive indoor plants all year long. You don’t have to throw them out with your tree when the holidays are over. If you care for it properly, there is no reason why you can’t keep it until next year. Keep reading to find out how.
First, stop by your local True Value hardware store for the tools, products and expert advice you need to keep your poinsettias around to bloom every holiday season.
Step 1. Start with a Healthy Poinsettia Plant
If you’re going to keep the plant going until the following year, you must start with a healthy plant. Carefully examine the plant at purchase, looking for plants that have dark green foliage along the entire lengths of stems with leaves that aren’t wilted. Be sure that the bracts (the red “leaves”) are completely colored and bright in color. Also look for any signs of insect infestation.
- Insulate the plant with plastic before leaving the store if it’s cold outside. The longer the plant is exposed to cold conditions, the more likely it is to be unhealthy and not last as long.
Step 2. Move the Poinsettia to a Larger Container
If you bought or received a poinsettia during the holidays, after they’re over, remove the poinsettia from its container and place it in a slightly larger pot so that it has room to grow and expand. Use fresh, high-quality potting soil rich in organic amendments in the new pot.
Step 3. Keep Poinsettias in the Sun
Poinsettias like plenty of bright, indirect sunlight. Keep them near the sunniest window in your house so that they get adequate light. Poinsettias are sensitive to extreme temperatures, however, so don't place them directly in the sun, next to a heater or near a drafty window. A daytime temperature between 65 and 80 degrees and nights around 60 degrees will provide perfect conditions for continued growth. Keeping the temperature constant 24 hours a day helps the plants thrive and decreases leaf shedding.
- While not as toxic as they are often rumored to be, like many plants, poinsettias can be mildly irritating to the stomach if ingested and to some people’s skin. Keep pets and small children away from the plant to avoid unwanted contact.
Step 4. Water It Right
Poinsettias prefer humid conditions (they are native to Mexico and Central America, after all). If your home is especially dry due to heating or climate, you may want to mist your poinsettias with water from a spray bottle daily. Keep the soil slightly dry as much as possible. Keep in mind though that after a couple of days without enough water, poinsettias may begin to drop their leaves. Let the soil dry out between watering and then water thoroughly with a watering can. Check soil moisture by sticking your finger into the soil every couple of days. Add water when the soil is dry down to your first knuckle. Be sure not to let the plant’s pot stand in water at the plant’s base. Instead, a layer of pebbles in the bottom of the tray keeps the plant out of the water and increases the humidity around the plant.
Step 5. Prune It
Cut growth back to approximately a 6″ to 8″ height in spring using hand pruners. Prune a couple more inches of growth in late summer to keep the plant compact and manageable as it grows through the fall.
- If you want to start new poinsettias, make cuttings in May or June.
Step 6. Keep It in the Dark
To bring out the full color next season, starting around Labor Day you’ll have to cut the plant off from all light between evenings and mornings for up to 8 weeks—even incidental glare from outside streetlights, for example, is out of the question. You can move the plant into a closet, or a simple trick is to use an empty box covered in black plastic as a cover. Uncover or move it back into its sunny spot during the day. Once the red color returns to the plant, you can leave it in its usual full-time spot near a window, etc.
Step 7. Fertilize
Add an appropriate fertilizer to the poinsettia’s soil every two to three weeks. For advice on which fertilizer is best to use, just ask an expert at your local True Value hardware store. A general, all-purpose liquid houseplant fertilizer used at half-strength is a good choice.
Congratulations! Now you know what you need to keep your poinsettias going from year to year.
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