Retail stores and garden centers offer an abundance of poinsettia plants as the holidays near, and many people buy them to grace their holiday tables.
More often than not, by the time the holidays are over, poinsettias have lost a large amount of foliage due to improper watering and care. It is possible to keep poinsettia plants growing and thriving all year long.
TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Karen Thurber adds, "Poinsettia plants are not poisonous. Although, if ingested in large quantities they can cause an upset stomach."
Start With a Healthy Plant
The best chance for success when growing a poinsettia is by starting with a healthy, well-developed plant. If you start with a plant that's already losing bracts and leaves, chances are it won't survive past the holidays.
Choose a plant with deep green foliage with a height that's approximately 2½ times the width of the pot. Don't buy a plant with missing or drooping leaves and look for one with healthy bracts. The bracts are the colored foliage, and they should have little or no green around the edges.
In addition, don't buy poinsettias on display in overcrowded conditions or those that are wrapped in protective sleeves. Chances are their health has been compromised, and they are more likely to drop bracts prematurely.
The colored bracts are not the actual blooms. The true blooms grow from the base of the bracts. Check the blooms for maturity before purchasing. Young plants will have red or green-tipped blooms, and older ones will be covered with yellow pollen.
Examine the soil before buying a poinsettia plant. It should be relatively moist but not waterlogged. If the soil is soggy and the plant is drooping, it could already be suffering from an irreparable case of root rot.
After finding the perfect holiday specimen, properly shield it from the cold before transferring it to your vehicle. Have it wrapped in a protective sleeve of paper or plastic if temperatures are less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ideal Growing Conditions
Once you've purchased a healthy poinsettia plant, the key to long-term success is proper care in ideal growing conditions. A healthy poinsettia won't stay healthy for long if it isn't tended to appropriately in the right environment.
The ideal location for a poinsettia is in front of a warm, sunny, draft-free south, east, or west-facing window behind a veil of filtered sunlight. Poinsettias are tropical plants, so take care not to place it against the glass where it can suffer damage from the cold. Indoor temperatures should be maintained between 68 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn the pot a quarter turn once a week to provide ample light to the entire plant for even growth and uniformity.
TIP: Karen advises, "If you live in a warm climate, (USDA zone 9-11) poinsettias can be planted outside. Choose a location with fertile, moist, well-drained soil, that receives full sun."
Watering and Feeding
One of the most common reasons for foliage loss and premature death is improper watering. As previously stated, too much water is detrimental to the roots of a poinsettia plant, but too little water can also kill the plant. Leaves and bracts will drop in either case.
The soil should be kept evenly moist but never saturated. Check the soil on a daily basis for dryness, and try not to let it become completely dry. Watering the plant after it becomes completely dry on a regular basis will most certainly result in foliage loss. If the poinsettia you purchased came with the container wrapped in foil or plastic, make holes to allow water to drain into a saucer. Water thoroughly and dump excess water from the saucer. Do not allow poinsettias to sit in water.
If you prefer a lower growing bushier plant with abundant flowers, pinch off emerging shoots by hand to promote branching. Pinching should take place at monthly intervals if necessary, but not after the middle of August.
TIP: Karen cautions you, "Some people may experience irritation from touching the latex sap in the stem of the poinsettia. Wear gloves if you plan to pinch your plant."
A poinsettia kept past the holiday season will require a monthly application of a completly water-soluble plant food. Follow product label instructions for optimal results.
Poinsettias are photoperiodic bloomers. This means they require a certain amount of darkness each day in order to bloom. From around the beginning of September to the middle of December, place your poinsettia in complete darkness for at least 13 hours. More than 12 hours of total darkness is required for bloom production.
When the bracts are fully expanded and they begin to deepen in color, photoperiodic treatment can be discontinued. Maintain household temperatures of no less than 55 degrees Fahrenheit in the evening, and 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day for best results. Provide as much filtered sunlight as possible.
If your poinsettia ever requires repotting, it must be done before the photoperiodic period. Choose a peat-based soil and a well-draining pot of the appropriate size. Keep in mind the height of the plant should be 2½ times the diameter of the pot when choosing a new container.