As the holiday season winds down, we are often asked, “How do I keep my poinsettia blooming?”
If you’re the office manager at the Purdue Extension office in Columbus, you just keep watering it under the fluorescent lights in the office and it holds its flowers all year. No kidding; it’s occupied a spot on Brenda’s desk since last December and it’s still blooming.
This was indeed exceptional, and keeping a poinsettia going usually takes more effort.
If you want to grow your poinsettia on through the year, remember that in its native environment in Mexico this plant is a tropical shrub that rarely sees temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. So one secret to poinsettia success is keeping it warm and out of drafts, even – and this is a trick – when getting it home or to or from a car. There’s a reason for those mylar sleeves provided by the florist or the young people at the fundraiser.
The drill for keeping the plant growing through the year is a labor of love, and of thumbs green, but it can be rewarding especially when done with a child. You can get written details from extension publications (such as extension.psu.edu/plants/gardening/fact-sheets/houseplants/care-of– holiday-plants), but you will:
Cut the plant back to 3 to 5 inches as it begins to drop leaves after the holidays.
Until May, store the plant in a cool, ventilated spot that stays in the 50s Fahrenheit, and water it just enough to keep it from drying out.
Come spring, re-pot the plant, increase watering and place it in a warm spot indoors, beginning a routine of fertilizing the plant every 7 to 10 days using a liquid product.
As soon as night temperatures stay reliably above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, move the plant outdoors into some light shade.
Once during the summer, pinch back the entire plant to make it bushier for more flowers
In August, as night temperatures begin to cool, move the plant indoors to a warm, sunny window spot.
To start the flower buds, provide complete darkness between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. from the first of October until Thanksgiving. Those without such a space often use boxes or closets for this step.
In case you’re wondering, that Christmas cactus needs much of the same routine.
The holiday season brings a whole new variety of plants into our indoor spaces, and poinsettia is just one. Along with holly, mistletoe and amaryllis, there are understandable concerns about toxic properties.
Poinsettia has a milky sap that can be irritating. The leaves are not considered toxic, but neither are they edible. Toxicity is often about dosage for body weight. Eating in excess can cause problems. For a helpful summary on these and other holiday plants, go online and see extension.oregonstate.edu/lane/sites/default/files/documents/hlidaypoisplnts.pdf
Plants given and enjoyed during the holidays carry rich tradition as well as their own nature story. Learning and passing along those traditions and stories is part of the fun.