No matter how you feel about poinsettias – love, hate, indifference – you have to admit that they are an ever-present part of holiday décor. If you include these cheerful plants in your decorating plan, don’t you want them to look good as long as possible? Here’s how:
Bringing them home
Poinsettias are a tropical plant, native to Mexico, so the first thing to remember is to keep them out of the extreme weather. If it’s a cold day when you bring them home (less than 50 degrees), don’t leave them in the car too long, and make sure they are protected on the trip from the car to the house.
Once inside, place them in a spot that gets indirect light. They’ll do well and last longer in a room that is not overly warm – 68 to 70 degrees is just about right. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Most likely the plastic pot will be wrapped in foil; it’s best to take the foil off when you water, to avoid trapping water that will cause the roots to rot. If the leaves become dry and curled, that’s a sign that it needs water. If a poinsettia wilts, that’s an indication that it may be getting too much.
But it may surprise you!
Those are the basics for keeping a poinsettia looking cheerful through the holidays. The length of a poinsettia’s life generally depends on how much care you’re willing to give it. Some people bring it home to display for a few days, and without any attention at all it dries out and begins to drop its leaves within a couple of weeks.
If it starts to look a little sorry, don’t feel bad about tossing it into the compost. However, as often happens, a poinsettia can surprise you by pushing on healthy and strong into the New Year, and it’s a shame to discard something that’s growing so vigorously.
So, let it grow. If yours is still doing well, you’ve given it at least the minimum amount of TLC: indirect light in a room that’s not too warm, enough water to keep the soil moist but not soggy. If you continue to care for it, the plant should last well beyond the holidays. To keep it looking its best, make sure the poinsettia is in a place that’s away from cold drafts or heating vents.
Life after the holidays
As spring approaches, cut the poinsettia back to about 8 inches tall and fertilize with an all-purpose plant food. After there is no longer any danger of frost, re-pot the plant and set it outdoors, or plant it in the ground where it can survive as a nice, interesting all-green plant all summer. (What we think of as the colorful flowers are technically bracts, or modified leaves. The tiny yellow flowers are clustered in the centers of the bracts.) Poinsettia will bask in the summer heat, then succumb to its inevitable fate at the first sign of frost.
Some ambitious gardeners are able to “re-bloom” a poinsettia plant, but it takes patience and impeccable timing to provide the right conditions of light and dark needed to produce the colorful bracts.
You can still find a selection of poinsettias to add to your last-minute decorating in the Gardens of Babylon Garden Center.