This is going to be one of those posts where you should do as I say, not as I do. Or maybe I should say "as I did." It's been years since I've had a live poinsettia in my house, and for good reason. I was lucky to get the things to live until Christmas, let alone past it.
Don't get me wrong, I love poinsettias. I see one and it screams "Christmas!" and all the good things the season entails. They just make me feel all warm inside. Even when I saw one growing in its native climate in Ecuador, and topping out at somewhere around 10 feet tall, I made my exchange student daughter Karina turn the car around so I could take its picture. I was in awe. Why couldn't I do that? (Besides the fact that Ohio is very different than Ecuador.)
And now it's that time of year again, when you see them in the garden centers, the grocery stores, the big box stores, the gas stations, and anywhere they think they can get you to buy them. Everywhere you turn, there they are, enticing you with their leaves of all colors - red, white, pink, orange, purple, and god forbid, glitter.
Now if - just if - I were to want to attempt to bring a live poinsettia into this house this Christmas season, it would be red or pink or one of the shaded pink ones. As much as I like "different," I like my poinsettias realistic and traditional. To do otherwise is akin to having a skinny Santa Claus. It just ain't right.
So I went off into the great big world that is the internet, in search of advice for growing poinsettias. I found a great site that seems to have all the bases covered, and they make it look so easy. And after all, the poinsettia is really just a type of euphorbia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) and I grow those in my garden, both perennial and annual ones, with no problems.
Here are the rules:
- When you buy a poinsettia, look for a plant that has little or no yellow pollen. This means it's a fresh plant.
- Protect the plant from even brief encounters with cold temperatures or drafts. They hate that.
- In your home, they like a temperature of 60-70 degrees, with nighttime temps around 55.
- Make sure it's in soil that drains well and only water it when the soil is dry.
- If you plan to keep it after the holidays, fertilize it monthly with a houseplant fertilizer. If you only want it for the holidays, don't worry about feeding it.
If you've made it this far with your poinsettia, good for you! You're ready for the second stage!
- In February or early March, cut the plant back to about 4-6 inches in height.
- Keep up with your watering as usual and monthly feeding.
- Repot in late spring or early summer into a pot about two inches larger than the one it was in, making sure the soil is moist when you do it.
- Keep it in a sunny window.
You have the option of putting it outside in the ground:
- Wait until all danger of frost has passed, and the night temperatures are at least 60 degrees.
- Put it in a shady area for a few days at first, to get it used to the bright sunlight gradually and it doesn't get sunburned.
- You can sink the pot into the ground where you'd like it to be for the summer, once it has become acclimated.
- Turn the pot weekly, to prevent roots from growing through the bottom of the pot, and to help with even sun exposure.
- Fertilize every two weeks.
You can pinch it back every 3-4 weeks, which will help it to become a bushier plant and have more blooms. The cuttings can be rooted in moist soil, with the help of a rooting hormone, to propagate more plants. (If I make it this far, this is even more than I could hope for!)
Before the night temperatures reach 55 degrees, bring the plant inside to a sunny location, and go back to fertilizing the plant just once a month.
Now, I would imagine if you're like me, and you've gone to all this trouble to keep your poinsettia, you want it to bloom during Christmas, don't you? Okay, then there's something special you need to do - put your plant in the closet. Don't keep it there, though.
In order for poinsettias to bloom, they need a prolonged period of darkness every night for 2-3 months. So in September or early October, put your poinsettia in a dark closet for at least 12 hours every night, but bring it out in the daytime and put it in the sunniest spot in the house.
Doesn't this remind you of having kids with a bedtime schedule? They were worth it, weren't they? So is your poinsettia. It's worth a try anyway, and I just might. If I'm not successful, I can go back to doing what I've done every year since I killed the last one...
Did you know that the belief that poinsettias are poisonous is just a myth? The milky sap contained in their stems can cause a reaction to those that are allergic to latex, just as it is with other Euphorbias, but the leaves are not poisonous. So go ahead and eat them if you want.
In the US, December 12th is officially National Poinsettia Day, so named by an act of Congress, to commemorate the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, an American who first brought the plant to the US from its native Mexico in the early 1800s.
Want to send an e-card to someone on Poinsettia Day? Here's one! Don't like that one? There are more!
Information in this post pertaining to growing poinsettias is from eSSORTMENT and was written by S. Masters. I could never have come up with this on my own.