Poinsettia Pointers

Sandie Bailey
Adams County Master Gardener

YIKES! Its almost Christmas again! Time to refresh your memory on how to care for one of the favorite Christmas flowers -- the poinsettia.

Keep the poinsettia moist but not wet. If it is too wet, the roots will rot. The leaves will drop off if it is too dry. Place it out of drafts, away from heating ducts and in a high light location. You can determine the light level by examining the shadow your hand casts on a piece of white paper. If the shadow is dark gray and the outline of your hand is sharp, not fuzzy, you have a suitable location.

Poinsettias are difficult to get to bloom again. Enjoy them while they are beautiful and throw them away when the leaves begin to fall. "THROW THEM AWAY? Im a Master Gardener!"

Okay, you asked for it. A poinsettia must rest for a couple of months after blooming in order to bloom again next year. After the holidays, gradually withhold water until all the leaves fall. Store the plant at 50 - 60 F until spring. Water it just enough to keep the roots from drying. Some growers think the plant rests better in the dark. You could cover it or place it in a closet.

In April (after at least two month's rest and after the danger of frost has past) cut the stems back to six inches. If there is more than one plant in the pot, separate them. Pot separately it in good potting soil in a slightly larger pot and water. Set outdoors in May.

Outdoors, position the plant so that it receives good sunlight, wind protection and light shade during the hottest summer months. Keep the plant in the pot. If you sink the pot into the ground, make sure the roots do not grow through the drainage holes into the surrounding soil.

As the plant grows, cut the shoots so that only two nodes remain. Pruning three times should result in six to 10 branches. DO NOT PRUNE AFTER MID-AUGUST. Control insects or diseases as they occur. Water regularly and fertilize with any good houseplant-type fertilizer once a month. Do not move the plant around too much or the leaves may drop.

Before cold weather in the fall, bring the poinsettia indoors to a bright, sunny south-facing window. If it experiences much change in light level, the leaves may fall. Growing in light shade in mid-summer helps prepare the plant for reduced light indoors. Keep the nighttime temperature at 60 F. Higher temperatures will cause poor flower development. Room temperature of 70 - 75 F during the day is fine.

The poinsettia is a short-day plant. It needs long, uninterrupted nights to flower. From the first of October until the colored bracts can be seen, it should not receive any artificial light at night. A closet may be ideal to keep the plant overnight. However, a quick, short exposure to even dim light can prevent flowering. To be safe cover the plant at dusk every evening with a light-proof bag or cover and uncover it about 8:00 AM.

If after reading this you this far, you still want to keep your poinsettia to bring into bloom for next Christmas, I take my stocking cap off to you.

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