Post-Holiday Care for Poinsettias
The traditional red and green flower synonymous with Christmas graces many homes. By late spring, the bracts age and lose their aesthetic appeal, but you may want to preserve the plant for next year. The following are tips on caring for a poinsettia to winter over until the following holiday season.
Location and temperature – water and fertilizer
To enjoy your plant after the holidays, the spot where you place the poinsettia and household temperature will affect how well your plant continues to bloom and remain healthy.
The poinsettia thrives on indirect, natural daylight. Exposure to at least six hours of daylight is recommended. If direct sun cannot be avoided, diffuse with a light shade or sheer curtain. To prolong the bright poinsettia bracts, daytime temperatures should not exceed 70 degrees F. Avoid placing the plants near drafts, excessive heat from appliances, fireplaces or ventilating ducts.
Poinsettias require moderately moist soil. Water the plants thoroughly when the soil surface is dry to the touch. Remove the plant from decorative pots or covers, and water enough to saturate the soil. Do not allow the poinsettia to sit in any standing water. Root rot could result which could kill the plant. It is not necessary to fertilize the plant when it is in bloom.
Care after the holidays
Once you notice the bracts losing their bright color, usually by late March or early April, cut the plant back to about 8 inches in height. By the end of May you should see vigorous new growth on the plant. Pruning may be required during the summer to keep the plant bushy and compact, but do not prune after September 1. Keep the plants in indirect sun and water regularly.
Place your plant outdoors, where they can bask in the warmth of spring and summer. Set them out once outside night temperatures are 55 degrees F or above. Since poinsettias are sensitive to cold weather, frost and rain, outside placement during inclement weather should be avoided.
Continue watering regularly during the growth period. Fertilize every two to three weeks throughout the spring and fall months with a wellbalanced complete fertilizer. Around June 1, you may transplant your poinsettia into a larger pot. Select a pot no more than four inches larger than the original inner pot. A soil mix with a considerable amount of organic matter, such as peat moss or leaf mold, is highly recommended. If you wish, you may transplant the poinsettia into a well-prepared outside bed. Be sure the planting bed is rich in organic matter and has good drainage.
Re-flowering for the holidays
The poinsettia is a photoperiodic plant, meaning that it sets bud and produces flowers as the fall lengthens. The plants will naturally come into full bloom during November or December, depending upon the flowering time of the cultivar. Timing the bloom to coincide closely with the Christmas holiday can be difficult without the controlled climate of a greenhouse. Stray light of any kind, such as from outside streetlights or household lamps delays or entirely halts the re-flowering process.
Starting October 1, the plant must be kept in complete darkness for 14 continuous hours each night. Accomplish this by moving the plants to a totally dark room, or by covering the plant with a large box. During October through early December, the plants require six to eight hours of bright sunlight daily with nighttime temperatures between 60 to 70 degrees F. Temperatures outside this range may delay flowering. Continue the normal watering and fertilizing. Following this regimen for eight to 10 weeks should result in a colorful display of blooms for the next holiday season.
According to Rebecca Siemonsma, technical services manager and horticulturist at the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, Calif., where nearly 75 percent of the poinsettias grown in North America and 50 percent of those grown in the world get started, red is the traditional color of the poinsettia. Siemonsma says, “New and exciting colors are gaining popularity with names like Prestige Maroon, Deep Burgundy Bordeaux, Winter Rose Early Pink, Fuchsia Pink and Winter Rose Marble Cream and Pink.”
How you care for your poinsettia after the holidays will determine how long you will have the pleasure of a poinsettia with healthy, beautiful blooms from one season to the next.
Carole McCray lives, writes and gardens in the scenic Laurel Highlands east of Ligonier, Pa. She is an awardwinning writer; her most recent award was the Garden Writers Association Award for her article on Native Seeds which appeared in The Christian Science Monitor newspaper. She can be reached at mountain26@ verizon.net.