Tips for keeping poinsettias alive from one holiday to the next
Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima, native to Mexico) are beautiful plants with red, white or green leaves and are symbolic of the holidays, but they are a challenge to keep alive. They’re becoming more expensive each year to buy, but I have some tips on how to keep them looking better longer and even surviving until the next holiday season.
When you purchase your first poinsettia:
-Keep it in a spot where it has bright, indirect light. It likes humidity and temperatures of about 67 degrees during the day and about 45 degrees at night.
-Keep the plant away from drafts and fireplaces and do not over water. Too much water can cause root rot and too little water can cause the leaves to dry up and fall off. Do not let water build up in the tray either.
-During the winter months, very little care is needed. Using an all-purpose fertilizer at half-strength every other week can keep the plant looking great through January.
Now comes the hard part. Starting in February:
-Begin half-strength fertilizing every third watering.
-Around mid-February and sometimes as late as March, the flower bracts will start to fade. This is a good time to put the plant into a dormant state to prepare it for the next holiday season.
-Prune the plant to about eight inches tall and leave one or two leaves on each branch.
-Cut back the watering (the top inch of soil should be dry) and do not fertilize.
-Toward the end of April, start watering more frequently and fertilizing with a 12-12-12 or 20-20-20 mixture.
-By late May, your plant should start to grow.
Now comes the fun part.
-Re-pot your plant in fresh soil (poinsettias like slightly acid soil) and by June you can put it outside.
-Just keep it away from winds that will dry out the soil, and keep the soil moist.
-Southern exposures do well as long as there is good drainage.
-Water every other week and use the half-strength fertilizer or slow release pellets.
-Pinch the tips back about 2-3″ if you want a shorter plant with smaller flowers.
-If you want a taller plant, re-pot in a bigger pot and do not use garden soil. Use a sterilized, lightweight potting mix and thin out the branches.
-Beware of white flies in the summer months and take care of the problem before bringing the plant inside.
-Maintain the same watering and fertilizing schedule until around mid-September.
Now comes the tricky part. At mid-September:
-Poinsettias are photoperiod sensitive, which means that their flowering is triggered by the length of time they are exposed to light. When the plant senses that the days are shorter, it starts reproduction.
-Their light schedule is very strict: no more than 10 hours of light a day.
-Once it has been exposed to light for 10 hours, put it in a dark place (a closet or bathroom with no windows, or even a box) and then take it out in the morning.
-Place it in a sunny, indirect light location, around 70 degrees. This should be done for 10 weeks.
-Some people like to keep the plant in darkness for 14 hours for a period of six weeks.
NOTE: You might want to try one plant under the schedule of 10 hours of darkness for 10 weeks and one plant for 14 hours of darkness for 6 weeks to see which is best for your poinsettias.
Now back to the fun part.
-Continue watering and half-strength fertilizing and by mid-late November you should notice the bracts forming.
Congratulations! You will have a beautiful poinsettia in time for the holidays.
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