Poinsettia Care

poinsettias

Every year I do a post about poinsettias.  This is the number one selling house plant/tender perennial in the country so it seems worthwhile to devote some time to it, particularly since my readers shouldn’t have to look back to 2011 or 2010 to see what I’ve said about these colorful plants.

When it comes to poinsettias, I almost alway buy a couple for the holidays.  They’re invariably red, since the Spoiler likes them in red.  I have experimented with the other colors, and even with the more “fanciful” ones like the rose poinsettias.  Ultimately, I’ve decided that I like the red or the white ones best as well–and since I try to keep harmony at the holidays, the red ones usually grace the house.

They don’t do particularly well for me because they are a tropical plant and my house is anything but tropical.  I try to give them a decent amount of light (no direct sun–they really would prefer not to have that) and I put them in one of the warmer rooms of the house.  But of course, warm to us hardy New England types is NOT warm to a poinsettia so I will often lose them after a few months (I can’t keep betta fish for the same reason, despite my love of them, so I’ve given up trying).

So just from that description, you know that poinsettias like warm, bright rooms with no real direct sunlight.  Where many folks fail is in the watering.  Again, this isn’t the easiest. The instructions say “evenly moist.”  That often leads to over-watering, and then perhaps to under-watering–not a good combination.  I wind up checking mine every few days when I first bring it home to see how quickly it’s drying and then water accordingly.

The other thing most folks want to know about is “after-care,” or how to bring the plant back into flower once next season comes.  This really isn’t as hard as all the experts have you believe.

The first line of attack is to cut them back.  That will get rid of the worst of any sad-looking foliage and give the plants a chance to rest a bit.  You can do this as early as January if you like–but don’t expect any new growth to begin until about mid-March or so.

Once March comes, I will begin feeding with an organic fertilizer that is higher in nitrogen so that the plants begin to branch and put on new growth.  (March is the magic month, at least here in the northern latitudes, because that’s when the sun begins to return and warm up and indoor plants naturally begin to grow.)

I have had great success in keeping the plants over in an un-used room in my house–just a spare guest room.  I don’t try to block ambient light from adjoining rooms, I’m not overly neurotic about not turning on the light in the room (but obviously I don’t leave the lights on for extended periods) and I don’t block out lights room the outside window.  By December, the bracts are coloring up again. They will never be as full or lush as a grower’s poinsettia, but they do come back–and the satisfaction of knowing you’ve done it yourself is a lot of fun!

I’ll talk a bit about myths and lore on Friday since this is already way too long!

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