The Q&A Archives: poinsetta

Question: Is it possible to keep a poinsettia plant? What must one do to save this holiday beauty from its demise? Can it be retained as an addition to the rest of your houseplants? It is sad to see such a beautiful plant lose it leaves and flowers and be rendered helpless to save it.

Answer: It is possible to grow your poinsettia on past the holiday season, but it can sometimes be a real challenge. That's why most people toss their and start all over with a new plant each holiday season. But, if you're willing to try, here are the basics:

The plant enters a dormant stage once it loses all its leaves. Move it to a cool, ventilated area. As long as the temperature remains at about 60 degrees, it will be fine. Ugly, but fine. It won't need much water at this point, but you'll need to provide about 1/3 of what it was getting. A protected garage or basement works well during this phase of its life.

In early spring, cut it back to the healthiest few branches. (Wear gloves. Some people are sensitive to the white sap.) When you repot your other house plants, re-pot your poinsettia at the same time. A slightly larger pot and any good potting soil is fine. Water and place in a sunny location. As the days lengthen and warm, you should begin to see new growth. Fertilize every few weeks with a good, balanced plant food as you would any other house plant. Keep the plant damp, but not wet, and mist regularly.

In April or May, move your poinsettia outdoors as long as the danger of frost is past. An eastern or southeastern exposure usually provides plenty of bright light but shades it from hot afternoon sun.

Shape the plant by pinching back shoots to force it to get bushier. Without control, poinsettias tend to become rangy and leggy.

While it is actively growing, poinsettias like extra humidity. Misting them makes them very happy. If you have a mister on the back patio and a southeastern exposure, you could have one very happy plant.

In late summer or early fall when the days become cooler, bring it back inside, again placing it in a sunny window. Poinsettias can tolerate coolness and even a bit of frost, but a hard freeze will annihilate them. The optimum temperature is between 65?70 degrees. Reduce watering somewhat at this point.

Forcing bloom for the holiday
To force blooming in time for the holidays, poinsettias require short 9?10 hour days. From the first of October to first of December, the plant will set blooms only if it has NO light at night. Put it in complete darkness from about 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. A nearby cabinet or closet would work or you can rig up some kind of covering. At 8 a.m. return it to its sunny window location. It should continue to receive regular feedings until December when you will reduce fertilizing to about a third of previous feedings. Water normally when dry to the touch.

Typically, even seasoned gardeners have difficulty reaching the size and type of blossoms the plant probably had originally when it was purchased. There is a fair amount of work involved trying to bring it through the year, so if you get to December and it looks weak, leggy, and has tiny or no colored bracts, don't feel bad about consigning it to the compost bin and buying another one.

Best wishes with your poinsettia!

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