With a Little Poinsettia Plant Care, You Can Keep Your Plant Alive and Growing for Years
The poinsettia plant has come to represent the holiday season in much of the world. Until recently, I didn’t even think of keeping one after it “died.” Then I learned poinsettia plant care can mean years of growth and blooming. They’ll even turn into large tree-like plants!
Everything You Need To Know About Poinsettia Plant Care
One of the Christmas traditions of the south is to put poinsettia plants in the church auditorium in honor of a loved one who has passed on. The room will be full to overflowing with poinsettias of every color available but mostly red. The service before Christmas, you are invited to take your poinsettia home for the holidays.
About 6 years ago, we were preparing to clear out the auditorium and one of the old-timer ladies asked me if I wanted to take some of the extras home to keep for next year. I must have looked confused because she said, “Honey, you know you can keep them for years, don’t you?” I had to confess no, I’d never heard that before. She graciously told me about poinsettia plant care.
The First Step – Selecting the Poinsettia Plant
When purchasing a poinsettia, look for dark green foliage. The colors of the colored leaves should be bright and vibrant and in proportion with the size of the pot and plant stem. The flowers, the center of the colorful leaves, should not be showing any pollen but should be in tight, yellow clusters.
Avoid any plant not meeting these healthy plant guidelines. Also, if you see drooping leaves or plants which just don’t look “right” avoid them. They may already be damaged beyond recovery.
Don’t purchase or try to keep an unhealthy plant or one with a bug problem. Be sure to protect your plant on the way home. It should not be exposed to wind or freezing temperatures.
Is keeping a poinsettia worth the work?
There are at least two schools of thought on this. Some people like to keep them over and enjoy the challenge. Others say it’s not worth the work and they should be treated like a Christmas tree and thrown out.
You decide for yourself. I have to say there is no guarantee they will rebloom the following year, even if you do everything right. As a gardener, I know this is possible with anything I plant. There’s always a certain amount of work and risk-reward involved.
Poinsettia Plant Care During the Holidays
Your poinsettia will bloom late November – February so it’s important to pick out a healthy plant. Once you get it safely home, display it for the holidays by placing it where it will receive plenty of natural light but not in direct sunlight.
You want to avoid placing it in high traffic areas, drafty spots, under ceiling fans, and away from any heat source. Any of these can irreversibly damage the plant. The poinsettia is a tropical plant, it likes temperatures ranging from 60-70 degrees.
The poinsettia likes to be dry between watering. Don’t water it unless it is dry like an aloe vera or another plant in succulent soil. If you leave the poinsettia pot wrapped in its colorful holiday foil wrap, remember to drain the foil. Do this by cutting or punching holes in the bottom of the foil. This will ensure it won’t be sitting in water. Over-watering is the most common cause of poinsettia death.
When you water the poinsettia, soak the soil so that it’s saturated all the way through. Let the pot drain well so there’s no excess water. You can judge your watering skills by the leaves. Too much water and the bottom leaves will turn yellow and drop off. Too little water and the leaves will wilt and the middle and lower leaves will drop.
Poinsettia Plant Care For Reflowering
If your climate allows it, the poinsettia prefers outdoors to indoor. If not, place it outdoors as soon as weather permits. Don’t expect your poinsettia to ever look like the one you bought.
This is because the poinsettia you are used to purchasing is actually pruned pieces from a sapling. To get that store-bought look, you can use the pruned cuttings to start new plants. Now you know!
If you want to keep your poinsettia over for reflowering, there are some special steps you’ll need to take. Remember, there’s no guarantee the plant will reflower even after all your care, however, the chances that it will are good. You can also help it grow into a poinsettia “tree.”
Pruning for Shape
If you want to keep the small bush look, trim the plant down to about 6” above the main stem. You can root the shoots you cut off and grow more poinsettias.
If you want a larger bushy poinsettia, remove the tops of each main shoot. If any new growth starts, pinch it off until mid to late July.
For a “tree-like” poinsettia, remove all the shoots from the main stem. Leave the top of the main stem in place. Do not prune this stem except to remove all side shoots. Keep any new growth trimmed off until mid-late July.
Once the flowering season is over and you’ve pruned the plant to the shape you want, don’t give it full sun. If you do, the remaining leaves will scorch and the plant will be damaged.
Be sure your poinsettia is in full shade for the first two weeks. After two weeks of full shade, move it to partial shade for two weeks. Next, move it to partial to full sun. This is called hardening off your plant. This is especially important if you are putting your plant outdoors.
Poinsettia Plant Care Late Winter – Early Spring
Poinsettias are long flowering – 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 have a well-shaped plant for the following year, you need to cut each of the old flowering stems or branches back to 4 to 6 inches in height. Leave one to three leaves on each of the old stems or branches – new growth comes from buds located in the leaf axils.
Cutting the plant back will cause the buds to grow and develop. This cutting back is usually done in February or early March once flowering is over. Keep the plant in a sunny window, between 60 and 70 degrees F, and water as described above. Fertilize as needed every 2 weeks.
Poinsettia Plant Care Late Spring – Summer
Now is the time to re-pot your plant to a larger pot. Be sure to use a well-draining soil such as succulent soil. You can mix your own by adding 1 part peat moss, and 1 part vermiculite to your garden soil.
If you are going to grow your poinsettia outside, you have two options. You can re-pot to a larger pot or you can plant the original pot in the soil up to the pot rim. Either way works fine. I don’t put mine in the ground.
Do not take your plant outside until your nighttime temperatures are steadily above 50 degrees F. It’s a good idea to not take your plant outside until you’ve pruned it. Pruning is a shock to any plant so be kind and give it a few days to recover from pruning before you set it outside.
Your poinsettia will need to be fertilized about every two weeks. Use a houseplant fertilizer according to the directions. For now, you’re just watering and fertilizing while letting your plant rest.
Poinsettia Plant Care During Fall
Watch for frost dates. You’ll have to bring your poinsettia plant indoors before the first frost. Freezing will seriously damage or kill the plant. You can set it out during the day if you like, as long as the temperature isn’t below 50 degrees F. You can just place it in a sunny window during this time if you can’t set it outside.
Continue fertilizing your poinsettia plant and watering as usual.
At the end of September, put your plant in complete darkness just like you would a Christmas Cactus. No street light or any light can be allowed to enter the closet or room the poinsettia is in. Do this from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. every day until around the first of December. Keep your times as close to these hours as your schedule allows.
During the day (after 8 a.m.) set your plant in an area where it will receive plenty of light. The temperature needs to be between 60-70 degrees F. Any nighttime temperature above 70 will delay the process of reflowering.
When you see the leaves begin to change the color you can stop the nighttime darkness and put your poinsettia in full light. Decrease the fertilizer to once a month and be sure to not overwater.
If you prefer to not move the plant in and out of darkness, you can use warm fluorescent lights during the day. These aren’t normal grow lights because the poinsettia needs warm white light. Use one 100 W bulb for every poinsettia plant. Place the bulb about a foot and a half above the plant adjusting as they grow.
You can use HPS lights but beware. The HPS light gives off a signature which law enforcement agencies track because it’s used to grow a particular plant which is illegal in most states. Just didn’t want you to get a knock on the door and be surprised by the number of officers there with a search warrant!
Tips for Poinsettia Plant Care
- Do not disturb your poinsettia during blackout hours. Most people say 14 hours of darkness is adequate, but everyone agrees 16 hours will ensure the best results. This is especially true if you use warm lights or expose it to the bright sun during the “waking hours”.
- Watch for flower indicators. The first sign is what is known as “rusting out.” The top of the leaves begins to change color because they’ve received your signal that it’s fall.
- Once the poinsettia begins to flower, be sure it’s exposed to bright light, but not more than 10 hours a day. Either sunlight or artificial warm white light.
- Light exposure for at least 9 hours a day will keep your poinsettia flowering all the way through February and maybe even as late as May.
- If you should be ready to put your plant to bed before it has flowered itself out, put it under an artificial light source for 24 hours. This signals the plant that it is spring or summer and time for rest.
Now you know about poinsettia plant care. Is it too much work for you? Is it a challenge to your gardening skills?
Do you have tips or tricks on poinsettia plant care? Please share them with us in the comments below.
Another beautiful holiday plant is the Christmas Cactus. The Christmas Cactus is often passed down from generation to generation. Find out how to care for it and keep it alive for years to come.
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and Roxie