A common host gift we take to Holiday parties are Poinsettias. If you receive one for Christmas this year, do you know how to care for it? Poinsettias are a staple for the Christmas season, but they don’t have to be a short-lived gift that is thrown away at the beginning of the year.
Typically, poinsettias are most commonly found in red, but the color range is expanding all the time. They can now be found in white, pink, green, or a marbled pink or marbled red. On an old-fashioned poinsettia, the red colored portion of the poinsettia is not actually the flower of the plant. The colored, leaf-like structures are actually bracts, which are modified leaves. The actual flower of a poinsettia is the yellow center of the colored bracts.
Poinsettias need to be cared for during transport and while in the home. When you first purchase a poinsettia, you need to protect it as you transport it. Wrap it in a plastic bag when you take it outside to protect the plant from the cold, windy outdoor conditions. This should be done when you leave the store, when you move it from your car to your home, and if you take it to another house as a gift. Once in its permanent location, remove the decorative foil wrapping from the pot of the plant. This foil can retain water for the plant, but in a bad way. It can make it so that the plant roots are constantly wet and root rot may occur.
The care of a poinsettia can be tricky as the plants tend to be particular. Water the plant when the soil becomes dry to the touch, but don’t wait until the plant wilts prior to watering again either. Place poinsettias where they receive indirect light for 6 hours a day. Keep the plant away from cold drafts and keep them from touching a window. This plant prefers temperatures of 60-70 degrees F during the day and 55 degrees F overnight. Do not fertilize poinsettias during the flowering period. Poinsettias can be fertilized monthly with a houseplant fertilizer during the rest of the growing season if you choose to keep it alive.
You can keep the poinsettia year round if you wish. After Christmas, care for the poinsettia as you would any other houseplant. Keep it evenly moist and in bright, indirect light. In February or March, cut back the plant to 4-6 inches in height. In May, repot into a larger container. It can be placed outdoors after the danger of frost has passed. In the fall, bring the poinsettia indoors before night temperatures drop below 55-60 degrees F.
To encourage poinsettia to bloom again, it takes a specific routine of light and darkness. Poinsettia flowering is induced by a photoperiods, like Christmas Cactus. It takes 12 hours of darkness per night to initiate flowering. Starting at the end of September, place the poinsettia in a closet or cover it with a black cloth to keep it in total darkness from 5pm until 8am the next morning. Even the lights in our homes can interfere with the flowering cycle of this plant, so it needs to be completely dark around the plant. Once the flowers begin to develop in mid-December, you do not need to continue the dark period. It will help, though, if you continue this until the bracts are fully expanded. Then, you can enjoy your poinsettia through the holiday season for years to come.