Monday, November 26, 2012

Caring For Poinsettias

It is the time of year when most people bring home a poinsettia plant along with other Christmas treasures. Did you know that poinsettia plants can live for years?  There isn't any need to toss it when the Christmas season is over. It really doesn't take much effort to care for a poinsettia plant all year long. You can even condition them to turn red (white/pink) next year! It isn't hard. My house is a cornucopia of poinsettia plants.  I have them everywhere in all sizes!  My two oldest plants are about 6 years old and they are over 3 feet tall.  I conditioned mine to turn red for this Christmas. Here is a picture of one of them.

Here are some tips to keep your poinsettia plants healthy for the Christmas season and beyond:
  • Poinsettia plants like to be cool.  This is easy to accomplish - place them in front of a window! I have found (in the fall and winter) if you live where it snows, give the plant as much direct sunlight as possible. In Florida, or out in the southwest (like Arizona or Texas), place them back a bit from the window or put them outside for the Christmas season!  Morning sun is best when the plant is outside.
  • Poinsettia plants like to be moist. Most commercial grower tags say to water when the top of the dirt feels dry. In my opinion, if you do that the plant will die from lack of water.  The issue here is you need to know exactly what 'dry dirt' means. Most people don't. A better way to describe it is when you touch the dirt, you should see the moisture on your finger and/or your finger should feel damp. If that doesn't happen, the plant is too dry. Consistently moist soil will keep your plant looking good all season (and all year) long!  I must also caution you not to let the plant sit in standing water either - that will kill the plant too. I water my poinsettia plants about every 4 days. Then, I go back to the plant a few hours later and remove any excess water.
  • When Christmas is over, you can move the plant to an out of the way place if you are tired of looking at the red leaves. I like to look at mine so I leave them on display all winter.  If you move them, put them in a place that gets some sunlight. Or, you can put them in a place that gets bright indirect light all day.  Either one will work. Do not fertilize the plant at this point. Continue to keep the soil moist.
  • In late spring when the nighttime temperatures stay above 55 degrees, you can put the poinsettia plant outside for the summer. Morning sun is best. When I put mine outside they get sun until about 12:30. You can repot the poinsettia if you would like. (They should be repotted about every 2 to 3 years anyway.) When you place it outside, you can start feeding it.
  • Keep the plant outside all summer and let it grow new lush green leaves. While the plant is outside, continue to feed it on a regular basis. In the heat of the summer, you may need to water the plants daily.
  • In the fall, when the night time temperatures drop to about 55 degrees, bring the plant back inside. This is a good time to spray it with insecticide to prevent it from bringing bugs into the house. I usually spray mine with a homemade insecticide made from tobacco. To condition the plant to turn red (or white or pink) for Christmas, the plant must NOT be exposed to any artificial light in the house after the sun sets. The extra hours of darkness are what tell the plant to turn the leaves red. In my house, I accomplish this task by placing the plant in my guest bedroom. At the end of the day when the sun starts to set, I shut the door to that room so the artificial light from the rest of the house does not shine on the poinsettia. I have read in a few books that you only need to do this for about 2 weeks. Based on my experience, the conditioning is needed for about 60 days. I condition mine from September 15 to November 15th. (Remember, your home is not a professional greenhouse with exact controls on the lighting. In a greenhouse, the conditioning time may be as little as 2 weeks. In your home, the extra conditioning time is needed because a home has less than ideal circumstances.) For example, if I turn the hallway light on, light will shine under the door exposing the plant to trace amounts of artificial light. In addition, sometimes I forget to close the door at sundown. Sometimes I forget to close the door at all!  These little imperfections in the conditioning require that you treat for 60 days to get good results. No worries though, it really only takes about a week or two to make shutting the door a daily habit. For all your work, you will be rewarded with beautiful plants next Christmas!
Whether you wish to keep your poinsettia plant all year or not, follow these tips and you can have beautiful plants anyone would be proud of! 

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