How to Care for Poinsettias This Christmas and Beyond
We've all done it. It's the holiday season and a last-minute party invite (at your boyfriend's mother's house, no less) has left you scrambling for hostess gift ideas. Then it hits you: Your local grocery store most likely has a large display of beautiful Christmas poinsettia plants, conveniently located near the entrance. The bright leaves say "Christmas!" The tinselly foil on the pots says, "Festive!" So, because Southerners just don't show up at someone's house empty-handed, you scoop up a plant and present it proudly to Mrs. Whatever-her-name-is.
That's great. You've done your guestly duty. But as the daughter of a mother with the blackest of thumbs, I remember one year when we ended up with an astounding six poinsettia plants. Don't get me wrong–I'm not trying to discourage you from giving them as gifts–but in order to avoid what my mom did (she promptly killed all of the plants), we've rounded up some tips on how to care for that plant (or plants) that your son's girlfriend/co-worker/dogwalker gave you.
Poinsettias are part of a huge family of plants known collectively as Euphorbia. Poinsettia are Euphorbia pulcherrima, which translates roughly to 'the fairest,' and it's easy to see why. The large, often crimson (but sometimes pink or white) leaves that surround the small, yellow flowers are some of the most attractive seasonal foliage.
In order to make sure that your bright plants don't die, there are just a few simple things to remember.
How to Care for Poinsettias During the Holiday Season
- First, take the foil off of the plant so that it can drain. Place it on a saucer or plate. Then, you'll want to keep the soil moist. But don't overwater! You don't want standing water in your plant saucer.
- Next, make sure you keep your new plant in a steadily cool but well-lit room. Most modern poinsettia selections will keep their bright foliage until spring if they are given enough light. Selections with lighter leaves tend to last the longest.
- Though we often don't think of them as such, poinsettias do make pretty cut flowers. If you do decide to cut your blooms, sear the ends with a candle after cutting; this prevents the sap from escaping–the sap is what keeps the flower from drooping. Once cut, you'll want to make sure to check the water level frequently as poinsettias are quite thirsty in the vase. A floral preservative can help prolong the life of your arrangement.
How Long Do Poinsettias Last?
If cared for properly, a potted poinsettia can last for 2 to 3 months in your home. However, some home gardeners with a particularly green thumb may enjoy the challenge of caring for a poinsettia long after Christmas in hopes of a second bloom next holiday.
How to Make Your Poinsettias Bloom Again After Christmas
You loved your poinsettia during the holidays, but (news flash!) the holidays are over. Now your plant is starting to look a little sad. One overarching question courses through your brain. What am I supposed to do with the dang thing now?
Should you plant it outside? Should you grow it as a houseplant? Or should you just chuck it and buy a new one next Christmas? The answer depends on where you live and how much trouble you're willing to go to. Why not tend our poinsettias so that they'll bloom again next year? Follow these steps, and you'll be on your way to festive, re-blooming bliss
Outdoors: Native to Mexico, the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) doesn't like cold. If you live in the Coastal and Tropical South (USDA Zones 9-11), you can plant it outside and it will grow into a large shrub or small tree covered with blooms each winter. If you live farther north than that, your poinsettia will freeze into mush.
Indoors What about growing it indoors as a houseplant? That's fine, as long as you accept that it will never be as showy in bloom as it was when it first came from a commercial greenhouse that provided the perfect amounts of light, humidity, water, fertilizer, and growth regulator. Assuming you're cool with that, as soon as the poinsettia drops its green leaves, here's what you should do:
- Cut it back to 4 to 6 inches tall and move it to a slightly larger pot with good drainage. Add new potting soil to fill the extra space.
- Keep the soil moist, but never soggy.
- Provide bright light.
- Feed weekly with liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength.
- Every 3 to 4 weeks from spring until early September, pinch back the growing shoots, leaving only 5 to 6 green leaves per stem. After that, just let the stems grow.
- Bring the poinsettia into the house in October, before your first frost. In order to set flower buds, it will need 14 hours of complete darkness per day for about 6 weeks. How you provide this is where the "how much trouble you're willing to go to" comes in. Some people move their poinsettia into a closet when they get home from work and take it out to a sunny window when they leave for work the next morning. Just remember—without 14 hours of complete darkness per day for 6 weeks, it won't bloom.
- When you begin to see the bracts at the top showing color, the dark treatment is no longer necessary. Your poinsettia can come out of the closet at last. Don't be too disappointed if the blooms are sparse and dinky. You won't be alone.
What to Do if Your Poinsettia Has Yellow Leaves
While there are a variety of factors that may contribute to yellow leaves, the most likely culprit is water. You may be watering too much or too little. Ensure you plant has soil that slightly damp to the touch, not waterlogged or dry. Additionally, too much fertilization can also turn leaves yellow.
How to Know It's Time to Toss Your Poinsettia
Since many of us would be disappointed to work that hard throughout the year only to be greeted with sparse blooms, it's not unwarranted to toss your old poinsettia after the season has ended. During its many months indoors trying to save it for the next season, you poinsettia will suffer from low light and dry air, conditions considerably less agreeable than when it was growing in a comfy greenhouse. To show its displeasure, it will start dropping its green leaves. By the time spring rolls around, the red bracts on top may still be there, but the stems below will be naked, green sticks. Why torture yourself? Poinsettias aren't expensive. You can toss it into your compost and plan to buy a new plant each year.
Are Poinsettias Poisonous to Pets?
There's a reason for the phrase, "Beware of the poinsettia." But, it's not as toxic as we've been led to believe. However, it can cause irritation of the mouth and stomach for kittens and puppies.