Choosing and Caring for a Poinsettia Plant
When most people think of poinsettias, they think about bright red plants with huge red blooms. Hybridizers now have developed the plants into many pastel colors. My favorite is still the big red ones. Here you will find all the information you will need to purchase, care for, and get your poinsettias to re-bloom.
Purchasing the Plant
If possible purchase a plant that does not have plastic wrap around the leaves. The plastic puts off gases that aren’t good for it and will cause leaf drop. If your only choice is a plant wrapped in plastic, remove it as soon as you arrive home. If the plant is already dropping leaves at the store. Don’t purchase it. The poinsettia will never recover.
Look to see if the plant has little yellow blooms in the middle of the red leaves. The yellow blooms are actually the flower of the plant. If these aren’t present the plant is already old.
Look for white flies. Turn the leaves over and if you see little white bumps on the bottom of the leaves or little white flies, put the plant right back and don’t purchase. Don’t purchase another poinsettia from the store either, because even though you can’t see the white flies on other plants, they will soon be infested.
Keep the plant covered with a shopping bag after purchasing it if it will be exposed to winter weather conditions. In cold areas, make sure that it is exposed to cold air as little as possible when transporting it home. Never place it in a cold trunk. Poinsettias don’t like temperatures below 50 degrees.
Because a poinsettia is a tropical plant, originally from Mexico, it thrives on large amounts of sunlight. The plant needs at least 6 hours of sunlight. Placing the plant in any window except a north one should do the trick, but be sure the window is not drafty. If you plan on growing these plants all year, you may need to add some extra light from time to time with a plant light. However, I have seen them grown without one in Michigan where we get many cloudy days in the winter.
Your poinsettia will do best if it is kept at a room temperature between 68-70 F. Keep the plant away from cold drafts and direct heat. Keep it away from your cooking range, fireplaces, or ducts.
Water and Fertilizing
Water and Moisture Needs
When the soil is dry be sure to water the plant with slightly warm water. Keep it in a container that will let the water drain after watering. If the plant is purchased with a decorative covering around the pot, be sure to remove it when watering so that it can drain. Over-watering is a sure way to make your plant sick, so don’t overwater.
Poinsettias also like a high level of humidity, so place in a humid place if possible.
Don’t fertilize your plant while it is blooming. Wait until it has finished blooming and then fertilize with a well balanced all-purpose fertilizer. Growers use a diluted plant fertilizer which they use on the plant when watering once a week.
Getting Your Poinsettia to Rebloom
Poinsettias will thrive for years and rebloom each year if they receive the proper care. Around late March or early April, cut your plant back to 8”. Continue caring for the plant, watering and letting it have proper light and keep in the proper temperature. At the time of pruning, fertilize again.
You should see new growth around the end of May. Continue watering. When the outdoor temperatures never go below 55 degrees, you can place your plant outdoors. Be sure the plant is placed in indirect sunlight because, direct sun may burn the leaves. Don't forget to keep the plant fertilized.
The poinsettia may become bushy with the extra sunlight. You should prune the plant no later then the second week in September. Prune off any spindly growth and leave 4-6 leaves on each branch.
Around the beginning of June you may need to transplant your plant into a bigger pot. The pot that you choose should not be any larger than 4” bigger than the original pot. The best soil to use is peat moss or other soil that is high in organic materials. If you live in an area where the temperature stays mild year round, you can plant the poinsettia in your garden. Temperatures should stay above 55 degrees however.
If you would like Christmas bloom, you should keep your plant in an area where there is no light whatsoever for at least 14 hours, starting in late September thru October first at the latest. If no room in your house will provide these conditions, you can cover the plant with something during this time. You will need to continue this treatment for about 10 weeks.
During October through December, your plant will need at least 6-8 hours of filtered sunlight during the daytime hours. Also be sure that the plant is kept at the correct temperature range between 60-70 degrees F.
If you follow all of these instructions, you should have a blooming plant before Christmas. Now, sit back and enjoy.
Are The Leaves Poisonous?
I hesitated about purchasing a poinsettia this year because we have dogs in the house. An old wife’s tale is that the leaves are poisonous. This isn’t true at all. A child would have to eat so many leaves that it would be impossible for the plant to be toxic. A death from eating poinsettias has never been documented.
It is possible to get a stomach ache from eating the leaves, but because they have a terrible taste, no one would ever eat more than one and they would spit it out to get the taste out of their mouth.
If you are allergic to latex, you may want to keep your hands off of the leaves of these plants. Some people that are allergic to latex are also allergic to the leaves of these plants.
© 2010 Barbara Badder