The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is the one flower that is associated with Christmas, though it’s not a flower at all. The “blooms” are actually red plant bracts that are a different color than the plant leaves. This perennial plant is native to Mexico, can live for years, and reach a mature size of 16 feet tall. Along with the Christmas tree, poinsettias have now become firm Christmas symbols.
There are not only red poinsettias (the classic one) but other color varieties as well. They can be pink, white, marbled, or pale green, and come with different names like Cortez, Ice Punch, Marble Star, Silver Star, Luv U Pink, Snowy White, Chianti, etc.
Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not toxic or poisonous to pets or children. Being exposed to the plant does not result in side effects, although the milky sap from cut poinsettia stems can cause an irritating skin rash to people who are allergic to it, although this is rare.
During the holiday season, you may receive a poinsettia as a gift, or you may just want to decorate your home with these traditional Christmas plants. But what do you do with them after the Christmas season is over?
Poinsettia Care during Christmas
When a poinsettia is properly cared for, it will look beautiful throughout the Christmas season and for several weeks afterward. Although poinsettias originate from a tropical environment (e.g. Mexico), they can still thrive indoors depending on how you care for them – which should start from the moment they are bought and brought home.
Due to being sensitive to cold, which damages the leaves and causes them to drop, do not buy poinsettias from outdoor markets or open-air sales. When you buy them, ask the shop to wrap them in a protective wrapper before you bring them back. They need a minimum temperature of 55-60°F (13-15°C), and should be placed away from any direct sources of heat or cold. Loamy, neutral pH soil works best for poinsettias.
If the poinsettia has wrapping paper around the container, remove it so the water can drain through the soil freely. Place the container in a saucer to protect your furniture, then put the plant in the brightest location in your home, such as on a window sill. Keep the plant away from drafts and don’t let the leaves touch a cold windowpane.
Water anytime the top of the soil feels dry to the touch, which will probably be every day. The soil should always be moist, but well drained at the same time. Try to use slightly tepid water, not freezing water straight from the tap, when watering them.
After Christmas Poinsettia Care
There will come a time, even after the best of care, when the bracts will fade and fall off. The poinsettia will look dead, but it’s just going into dormancy. Many people just dispose of their plants once the Christmas season is over, but that is a shame, because it is possible to get the bracts to develop color again for the next Christmas.
Leave the plant in a sunny location and continue to water it until April 1st. After that, the watering can be slowly decreased, allowing the soil to dry out between each watering. After a couple of weeks, when the plant has gotten more used to this process of drying, it should then be shifted to a cooler location where the temperature will remain a consistent 60°F (15.5°C) and withhold water.
In 6 weeks (around the middle of May) cut the plant stem back to about 4 inches and re-pot poinsettia into a larger pot filled with new soil. Water well and place plant back in a sunny indoor location. Whenever the soil becomes dry it should be watered and you should keep looking for new signs of growth on the plant stem. Begin feeding poinsettia with high potash plant food every other week when you notice new growth.
Move the potted plant outside by June 1st and place in a bright, protected area. July 1st prune each stem back to about 1 inch. Continue watering and feeding plant. Prune stems back again in mid-August and bring the plant indoors. Continue this routine care until the end of September.
The poinsettia needs 14 hours of continuous darkness every day starting on October 1 and continuing until the plants’ bracts are fully colored, which should be around Thanksgiving. The bracts develop color in response to long periods of darkness – this process is called photoperiodism. The dark treatment should be adhered to strictly. Even missing one night of this dark treatment may hinder the process of bract coloration.
Stop the dark treatment by December 1st, and stop feeding the plant in mid-December for best results.
If you live in a climate that is warm year-round, poinsettias can be planted directly into the outdoor soil and grown in the landscape. Keep the soil moist and feed the plant during the summer months.
If your climate is cold, you can still have them outdoors (in containers) during the warmer months, but not in direct sunlight and certainly not in frost. Bring them indoors just before the onset of the first frosts.
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