Poinsettias are a favorite holiday plant to give and receive, but they can present a bit of a challenge – and perhaps some frustration – as you watch this beautiful plant decline each day.
If it makes you feel any better, you are not alone. I receive calls, e-mails and letters from other gardeners lamenting the decline of their once beautiful poinsettia.
First, always select a quality plant from a reliable source. You may pay a bit more but you will greatly increase your chance of success. Poinsettias left sitting in a cold truck overnight or on a loading dock exposed to cold temperatures for several hours are doomed to die.
Purchase a plant with deep green leaves and colorful bracts, the leaf-like structures we call flowers. Avoid plants with brown leaf edges that indicate the plant may have been over- or under-watered.
You also need to provide proper care when transporting any plant you purchase. Make sure the plant is wrapped in plastic or paper before exposing it to cold temperatures. Never leave it sitting in a cold car as you run errands or shop. Chilled plants appear fine until the next day when the leaves turn a gray-green then slowly yellow and drop.
Remove the protective plastic or paper sleeve as soon as you have them in a warm location. When the poinsettia leaves are bent the plant releases ethylene. This growth hormone speeds maturing and shortens the bloom time. Set the sleeve aside if you plan on transporting the plant to give as a gift to a family member or friend.
Grow your poinsettia in a cool, bright location away from drafts of hot or cold air. Water thoroughly and often enough to keep the soil slightly moist but not wet. You’ll enjoy the beauty of your plant longer when you grow it in these conditions. Bend the decorative foil edges down so light can reach all the leaves.
Next punch holes in the foil for proper drainage, or place a few pebbles in the bottom of the foil or on the saucer. I find overwatering is the biggest cause of death. The first thing I do when examining a struggling plant is lift it out of the foil or decorative container. You should do the same.
I often find the plant sitting in an inch or more of water. Using pebbles to elevate the pot above this excess drain water will improve your plant’s health and eliminate time spent pouring this water down the drain.
And don’t give up if your plant has lost some leaves. Adjust your care and fill those voids with a bit of holiday décor. Or use them as cut flowers. Cut the stem to the desired length. Remove the lowest leaves that would be submerged in water, then set the poinsettia cutting in a pretty vase filled with fresh water. Display them alone or add a few greens, berry-laden branches and other items to create a poinsettia arrangement.
After the holidays, move your poinsettia plant to a sunny window. Continue to water thoroughly whenever the top few inches of potting mix are just starting to dry. Fertilize with a dilute solution of any flowering houseplant fertilizer.
Get out the pruners and cut the plant back to 6 to 8 inches in mid March. This encourages new branches to form for a fuller, more compact growth. You can move your plant outdoors for summer after the danger of frost has passed or keep it growing indoors in a sunny window.
Bring your poinsettia back indoors in late summer or early fall as the temperatures begin to cool. Place it in a sunny window and water thoroughly as needed.
Adventuresome gardeners may want to try forcing their plants to bloom again for Christmas. Starting October 1st, give your plants 14 hours of total darkness each night and bright light during the day. Move them to a cooler location (60-65°) and keep the soil slightly dry to encourage flowering. Each missed dark treatment delays flowering by one day. That’s okay, poinsettias make a great Valentine’s plant as well!
You can stop the dark treatments once the bracts (colorful leaves) are fully colored. And don’t worry if the plant does not color up in time for Christmas – just add some silk poinsettia blooms and enjoy the fact you kept the plant growing throughout the year. The goal is to have fun as you exercise your green thumb.
Do you always buy a poinsettia at the holidays? What color do you choose? Do you have a green thumb or do plants hide from you? What other kind of holiday plants do you buy? We encourage you to share your tips and suggestions.