How to Keep the Splendor of Poinsettias Going Beyond Christmas

Claire Splan

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If you’re seeing gorgeous poinsettias in bold shades of red, white, pink, and even (sadly) blue or purple appear in your local stores and nurseries, you know it’s time for the annual Poinsettia Challenge—the race to see if you can not only keep your poinsettias alive through the holidays but even beyond. Maybe you can even win the ultimate prize: getting the dang thing to rebloom the next year!

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are a big business for the nursery industry. Last year alone, this single plant was worth an estimated $149 million according to the USDA figures. But for all that investment, most people look at poinsettias as throwaway plants they buy to dress up their décor for the holidays and then toss in the compost bin in January. However, if you don’t provide the right conditions for the plants, they might not even make it to January.

If you’d like to take a more long-term view of your poinsettias, here are some steps you can take to keep them healthy longer and maybe even coax them into reblooming.

To maintain potted poinsettias indoors, place them near a sunny south- or west-facing window. Keep them at 65 to 70° during the daytime, and about 5° cooler at night. Blasts of cold or hot air can cause the leaves to drop, so avoid placing them near an air vent or doorway. Don’t let the soil dry out completely—letting the plants sit in a saucer of standing water will keep them consistently hydrated. Following these procedures should maintain the blossoms and healthy foliage through the holiday season and somewhat beyond.

Poinsettias are fussy plants when it comes to getting them to reflower the following year. For best results, continue watering until April 1, then begin to withhold water, allowing the plants to dry out gradually. Once they’re dry, store them in a cool, well-ventilated area (but not below 60°).

In mid-May cut the stems back to 4 inches above the soil and repot the plants in fresh potting mix. Water well and return them to the same light and temperature conditions they had when in flower. Fertilize every couple of weeks with a balanced liquid fertilizer.

In June begin hardening the plants off by moving them outdoors to a shady location. Keep watering and fertilizing.

In early July pinch back each stem, then pinch them back again in late August, leaving 3 or 4 leaves on each stem. After the second pinch, return the plants to the same light and temperature conditions indoors they had previously. Keep watering and fertilizing.

Starting on October 1 and for the following 10 weeks, poinsettias must be kept in complete darkness for 12 hours each night in order to stimulate blooming. Continue fertilizing until mid-December.

For all that, there’s a good chance your poinsettias will not reflower successfully—like I said, they’re fussy. But give it your best shot!

Note: Poinsettias are mildly toxic to cats and dogs, so it’s best to keep the plants where your pets can’t nibble on them.

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Writer/editor. Author of "California Fruit & Vegetable Gardening" and "California Month-by-Month Gardening."

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