How to Choose, Care For and Rebloom Your Poinsettia

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Poinsettia poised prominently in the parlor

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are woody shrubs native to Mexico and Central America where grow up to 10 feet in height. The Aztec Indians cultivated and regarded them as a symbol of purity before Christianity infiltrated the area. They also used the plant to make a reddish purple dye and harvested the milky latex sap to counteract fever.

Franciscan priests settled near Taxco, Mexico during the 17th century and began to use the flower in their nativity displays because of its appropriate holiday color and blooming time.

Joel Robert Poinsett introduced poinsettias into the United States in 1825. He was serving as the first United States ambassador to Mexico, where he discovered wild poinsettias growing on the hillsides near the city of Taxco. Poinsett shipped plants to his home greenhouses in Greenville, South Carolina and began sharing plants with botanical gardens and horticultural friends.

The Ecke Family of California are the breeders responsible for getting the poinsettia into homes for Christmas. In 1900, Albert Ecke emigrated from Germany to Los Angeles. He wanted to settle in a place where growing could take place year-round. Albert had always been fascinated by the poinsettia, as it bloomed in November and not many other plants did. He started growing poinsettias, as they were also a great alternative crop to grow when nothing else was. With lots of great marketing on the Ecke family’s part, they single-handily promoted the poinsettia as the Christmas bloom no home should be without!

Choosing Your Poinsettia:

  • Choose a plant with dark green foliage. Avoid fallen or damaged leaves as this indicates poor handling, fertilization, lack of water or a root disease problem.
  • Avoid plants with too much green around the bract edges, as this is a sign of insufficient maturity.
  • Be sure to check the underside of the leaves for insects.
  • The colorful flower bracts should be in proportion to the plant and pot size.
  • Little or no pollen should be showing on the actual flowers, the red or green button-like parts in the center of the colorful bracts. This indicates a younger plant.
  • If you are planning on reblooming your plant for next year, examine the branching structure. If the plants are grown single stem (non-branched with several plants per pot), these cultivars do not branch well and will not form attractive plants for a second year.
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Tight flowers indicating a younger plant.

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Pollen beginning to develop on the flowers indicates this plant has been in bloom longer.

Another quick fact: Poinsettias are NOT poisonous!! This rumor was proven false by Ohio State University in 1971, but hasn’t stopped the rumor-mill. It was probably circulated by those Christmas Cactus peeps! (Just kiddin’!!)

Poinsettia Care:

  • Use a plant sleeve or a large, roomy shopping bag to protect your plant when transporting it. Let it ride ‘shotgun’ if possible (inside the car). Go directly home with your precious package!
  • Place your plant in indirect sunlight for at least six hours per day. If direct sun can’t be avoided, diffuse the light with a shade or sheer curtain.
  • Do not place plants near cold drafts or excessive heat. Avoid placing plants near appliances, fireplaces or ventilating ducts or the top of a TV.
  • Provide room temperatures between 60° F – 70° F.  Avoid temperatures below 50° F.
  • Water your plant when the soil feels dry to the touch. * Use lukewarm water.
  • Do NOT over water your plant, or allow it to sit in standing water. Temporarily remove he fancy dressing foil to allow H2O to drain.
  • No fertilizer when the plant is in bloom.

REFLOWERING INSTRUCTIONS:

Late Winter and Early Spring:

  • Poinsettias have long-lasting flowers; their bracts will remain showy for several months. During this time, side shoots will develop below the bracts and grow up above the old flowering stems.
  • To develop a well-shaped plant for the following year, cut each of the old flowering stems or branches back to 4 to 6 inches in height in February or early March. Leave one to three leaves on each of the old stems or branches, as new growth comes from buds located in the leaf axils. Cutting the plant back will cause the buds to grow and develop.
  • Keep the plant in a semi-sunny window at a temperature between 60° F and 70° F degrees F and water as described above.
  • Fertilize as needed every 2 weeks.
  • The plants can be repotted at this time with a commercial potting soil or an equal mixture of soil, sphagnum peat and one of the following: sand, vermiculite or perlite.

Late Spring and Summer Care:

  • After the temperatures reach over 55° F regularly, choose a wind protected, sunny location with some protection from midday and afternoon sun for your poinsettia.
  • Sink the pot to the rim in a well-drained soil. Rotate the pot every few weeks to break off the roots growing out of the drainage hole.
  • Check water needs frequently because the soil can dry out quickly in summer. This is why I suggest sinking the pot into the soil, where more water can be available to the roots.
  • Fertilize monthly according to directions with a balanced (10-10-10) houseplant fertilizer.
  • Between May 15 and August 1, cut off the tips of the plant, to get a shorter, bushier plant with more branches.

Fall Care:

  • Take your poinsettia indoors to its semi-sunny location well before the temperatures start going below 55° F. An artificial light source is often required to supplement low fall and winter sunlight.
  • Fertilize every 2 weeks.
  • To reflower your poinsettia, you must keep the plant in complete darkness between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. daily (14 hours) from the end of September until color shows in the bracts (early December-ish*). An unused closet or right sized box works well. This is the MOST IMPORTANT rule to follow!!! If the plant is not ‘put to bed’ regularly and correctly, it will not rebloom. Even missing a few nights can blow the schedule. This is generally why I just compost mine and buy new next year… I call it the ‘Hassle Factor’. If something is too much of a hassle to do, or outweighs the price of replacement, I will just repurchase to avoid the hassle!! Ha!
  • Temperature should remain between 60° F and 70° F. Night temperatures above 70° F to 75° F may delay or prevent flowering.
  • If you follow this procedure, the poinsettia will flower for Christmas.
  • If you don’t see color forming by the first week of December, something has gone amiss in the process. You may need to consider purchasing new ones if you must have blooms for your holidays.

GROWTH CYCLE OF THE POINSETTIA

DECEMBER

FEBRUARY

MARCH

Full Bloom. Flower fades. Lateral growth starts. Remove flower. Cut stems to 6 inches. Many laterals will start to break.

JUNE

JULY

LATE AUGUST

Repot in larger pot if necessary. Plant outside in pot. Pinch all lateral shoots to 4 inches. Root shoots if desired, then pot. Take inside.

SEPT. 20 until DEC. 1

Keep in light only from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Put in dark place (no lights) 5 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Credit: MSU Extension for the Awesome graphics!!

© Ilex Farrell ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

11 thoughts on “How to Choose, Care For and Rebloom Your Poinsettia

  1. Pingback: How to Care for Your Thanksgiving / Christmas Cactus | Midwestern Plants

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