CO-Horts Blog

Monday, January 8, 2018

How to Save Your Holiday Poinsettia:

Posted by: Amy Lentz, Weld County Extension

The holidays are over, decorations are being put away, Christmas trees are being recycled into mulch…but what about that poinsettia plant?  Should you try and save it for a few months?  Maybe keep it alive until next year?  Or should it be thrown out with the tree?  That choice is one that only you can make, but if you decide to keep it around for a little while longer or even until next year, here are a few tips that can help you be successful in your endeavor.

Hopefully, when you purchased your poinsettia plant, you were careful to get a good specimen; one that had nice dark green leaves, colorful bracts (these are the upper leaves that many people think are flower petals), a tight cluster of yellow flower buds in the center…a real beauty!

See the following article, featuring CSU Floriculture Professor, Steve Newman, offering tips on choosing a good poinsettia plant and keeping it healthy during the holiday season:

With a little extra TLC, your poinsettia plant can keep its colorful bracts for several months and ‘bloom’ again next year. Once the holidays are over, placement of your poinsettia plant will set it up for success. Your poinsettia should remain in a location with plenty of natural light, keeping it away from appliances, drafty areas like a front or back door, heat registers, and far enough away from a window so that its leaves do not touch the glass. Poinsettias prefer temperatures between 60 and 70 ⁰F, so room temperature is ideal.

Throughout the year, you will want to water deeply only when the plant is dry, allowing for the excess water in the pot to drain. Allow the container to dry out before watering again. If you see lower leaves drying up and falling off, you may need to water more often. If those leaves are turning yellow and then dropping, you may be watering it too often. Fertilize your plant every few weeks as needed. Important!...monitor your plant throughout the year for insects such as whitefl, aphids, and fungus gnats – all which can be attracted to poinsettia plants. If you notice a pest, take measures to get it under control promptly.

In late March or early April, your plant may be looking a little sad, but have no fear. It’s time to start shaping the plant and encouraging new growth by cutting back the original stems to a height of 4 to 6 inches, leaving back a few leaves which will allow for additional new shoots to emerge from the nodes of the remaining leaves. You might also see new shoots starting to emerge from the base of the plant. If so, you can encourage their growth by cutting back those older stems which will divert more resources to growing these new shoots, too. You should wear gloves during this process because poinsettias exude a white sap that can cause skin irritations or eye injury.

Two year old poinsettia.

May is a good time to step up your plant into a slightly larger container. Your plant is going to have more shoots and will be larger the following year, so stepping it up will give the roots plenty of room to expand. 

In early June, you will need to encourage some side branching of the stems which may look a little leggy at this point by cutting off the upper 2 to 3 inches of leggy or tall stems, removing the top leaves.

By mid to late June, you should be able to safely move your plant outside in a lightly shaded location. Once outside, you may need to increase the frequency of watering. After a few more weeks (mid July), you can trim the plant again. The last trimming of tall growth should be completed toward the end of August.

Bury the pot in the ground for added stability.
When Labor Day comes in September, it’s time to bring your plant back inside to that bright location in your house. And by mid to late September is the time to think about relocating your plant to a place in your house to condition it to flower…
Poinsettias are a short-day photoperiod plant that naturally start to flower when nights become longer than days (around the time of the Fall Equinox). The shorter days and longer nights signal flower initiation and over the next couple months, usually 8 to 10 weeks, the plant will create the beautiful bracts you see around the holidays. Due to advancements in breeding, many poinsettia varieties on the market today will flower naturally with the length of the night at our latitude and be in full color and bloom right in time for the holidays. However, even a small amount of light during this mandatory dark period can delay this process.

If you want to go the easy route and rely on the natural light and dark cycles, you will need to locate your plant in a spot that gets plenty of light during the day but no supplemental lighting once the sun goes down. If there are streetlights nearby or you flip on the light switch, even for a moment, you could delay or halt the plant’s ability to flower.

However, you can artificially create these long night conditions from late September until you start to see the leaves changing color, usually around the end of November or early December. Everyday, around 5 or 6 pm, cover your plant with a large box that does not allow light to reach the plant or place the plant in a completely dark closet. The next morning around 8 am, remove the box or place the plant back in the light. This will ensure that your plants get at least 14 hours of complete darkness each night and should be repeated for approximately 8 weeks. Once you start to see the bracts changing color, you can stop covering the plant each night.

So there you have it! Sounds easy, right? But, even if it seems intimidating, it might be worth the reward!

My mother-in-law's poinsettia plant is now over 3 years old!
 For more information on the care of poinsettias, see this CSU fact sheet:

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