We tend to think of our poinsettias as seasonal decorations that come into our lives with the pine garlands and go out with the trash from the New Year’s Eve party. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Follow these seasonal tips for keeping your poinsettia alive and blooming for many holiday seasons to come.
Early December, pick up a healthy poinsettia from the holiday displays at most grocery stores and garden centers, checking to make sure it has a few tight yellow buds at its center and undamaged leaves. Give your plant a bright, draft-free spot in your home, and keep it watered so the soil is always just damp. If its pot is covered in decorative foil, make sure water is not draining from the pot and pooling inside the foil. Poinsettias don’t like wet feet!
As the new year rings in, fertilize your poinsettia according to instructions with a general-purpose houseplant fertilizer. Clip off the blooms before they become too faded and use them in cut flower arrangements.
If the plant gets long and leggy, cut it back to about five inches tall. Mid-March, add some more potting soil to your pot. Keep it in bright light.
June is a good time to trim back the side branches three inches or so to promote filling out and repot to a larger, more permanent container. Once temperatures are consistently above 60 degrees F at night, you can move your poinsettia outside into indirect light. Mid-July shift it into direct light, trim again, and start a regular program of fertilization to encourage summer growth. Keep the plant watered during this hot and thirsty time of the year.
After Labor Day, bring your poinsettia back inside and place it in a spot with six or more hours of direct light a day, supplementing natural light if need be, and cut back some (but do not stop) the fertilizer.
Starting in late September, prepare your plant to bloom again for the holidays. You’ll need to give it 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness each night (in a dark corner of the basement or under a box) and 11 hours of direct light during the day. Night temperatures should be in the low 60s F. Continue to feed and water the plant.
By Thanksgiving, your poinsettia will be ready to come out of its winter hibernation and bloom for you! Put it in a place with at least six hours of direct light a day, stop fertilizing and enjoy your poinsettia through the holidays. When you’ve kicked the Christmas tree to the curb, it’s time to start the cycle all over again.
If babying your poinsettia through the necessary cooling period to get it to rebloom seems like too much effort, but you would still like to grow your own holiday flowers, try forcing paperwhites. It takes four to six weeks for paperwhite bulbs to bloom in the winter, but they do not need any special care during that time.