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Perfect Poinsettias: The Essential Christmas Decor

Native to tropical Mexico, the beauty of a healthy poinsettia graces many homes during the traditional Christmas holiday season. Children sell them for school projects, local nurseries offer them for sale in their window display and home improvement stores have racks and racks of bright red and white poinsettias on display for you to buy. Churches use poinsettias for decorating the sanctuary for the special Christmas services and many households use them for brightening their holiday season at home, as well as presented as gifts. But, what do you do with that poinsettia once Christmas is over? Many people throw the plants away, but there’s no reason you have to! Poinsettias can remain indoors for weeks once Christmas is over and can be cared for all during the year and bloom again for your next Christmas season.

Many people mistake the red bracts for flower petals on the poinsettia, but these are really just another leaf of the plant itself. The actual flower, called cyathia, is located in the center of those colorful bracts. Poinsettias have been bred in different ways over the years to produce an array of colors from green to white, pink and red. No matter what color they are, they are beautiful, and contrary to popular belief – they are not poisonous!

To ensure that you purchase a healthy poinsettia, select one that is full of bright colored leaved on the top and it’s yellow flower parts in the center of the bracts are just barely beginning to open. The flower parts wither and fall off when the plant ages, so you want to choose a fresh poinsettia that hasn’t fully bloomed yet.
Make sure the remaining green leaves, or foliage, are bright colored and crisp, and not wilted, brown or beginning to decay. The entire plant stem, down to the dirt, should be strong and sturdy and not show any signs of drooping, yellow leaves or flimsy stems. Make sure the plant is not dripping wet, a clear sign of over-watering, or not bone dry either. Check for bugs and insects crawling near the plant and around the dirt, as well as evidence that a fungus might be present. Avoid a plant with any of these signs.

When you bring home your new plant, take care not to expose it to a cold environment for even a brief period of time. These plants are native to a tropical climate and will damage easily if chilled. Your new poinsettia will thrive best in an environment around 60 to 70 degrees during the day, and about 55 degrees at night. Check the soil of your poinsettia every 2 days and water when the soil starts to becomes a little dry to the touch, but not bone dry. Maintain your poinsettia in a well drained pot, to keep water from standing on the root system, which will cause rot and attract insects and fungus. Six hours of light daily is ideal for your plant during the holidays, but take care that the plant doesn’t actually touch cold windows. Poinsettias love humid conditions, so you may consider misting your plant during the winter if your home air gets dry.

Once the holiday season is over, in February or March, cut back your plant to about 6 inches in height. Poinsettias should be fertilized monthly with regular houseplant fertilizer, while inside, and watered in the same manner as during the holiday season, making sure the soil is moist. While still indoors, you should keep the plant in a sunny window.

Once the night time temperatures remain above 60 degrees in the spring, and all danger of a night time frost has passed, you can move your potted poinsettia outdoors. Don’t immediately place your plant in full sun. Start out in shade for a couple weeks, moving to partial shade for another couple weeks, and then on into part or full sun for the remaining summer and fall seasons. This will help your plant to acclimate to the new climate. Plants introduced directly into full sun will sunburn, much like humans, and their leaves will fall off.

While the poinsettia remains outdoors, increase the fertilizing to every 2 weeks. If you want a bushy poinsettia for the next season, pinch back the new shoots every 3 or 4 weeks, leaving 2 or 3 large leaves, and the plant will begin to branch out in a bushy fashion. You can continue to pinch back the plant until late August.

Keep a close eye on the thermometer and bring in the poinsettia before the night time temperatures fall below 55 degrees. Put the plant back in a sunny window, reduce the fertilizing back to once a month, and continue to water as usual.

The trick now is to get the poinsettia to flower during the Christmas season. In order to do this, beginning in early October, the plant needs short day times and long nights. The poinsettia will bloom as their response to the shortened daylight exposure. The plant should not be exposed to any light during it’s night time, as even the shortest exposure to light will interrupt their night time and could prevent flowering. Many people move their poinsettias into the closet for about 12 – 14 hours and then take them back out and expose them to a fully sunny window for the remaining 10 – 12 hours for their daytime. It is imperative that the plant receive at least 12 hours of darkness every night for the flowers to develop and set. It is equally important that the plant receive as much light as possible during the day. In about 2 months, or maybe even longer, the flowers will be matured and will begin to bloom. Once the flowers have matured, you can discontinue the closet ritual and hopefully, this will occur at the right time during the Christmas season.

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