A Gardener’s Diary: Poinsettias keep blooming long after Christmas

Jocelyne Sewell shares a few tips for keeping the popular Christmas plant going for months after the holidays

Everywhere you go these days, poinsettias are on display. Most houses will have them for the Christmas season. For some of you who would like to keep them going longer, I found an old article about taking care of your poinsettia during and after the Christmas season. I have one which I kept from last Christmas. I didn’t do anything special to it and right now it has a few red bracts. It spent the summer outside in the morning sun.

Select poinsettia plants with green foliage extending all the way down to the soil line. This is a good indication that the plants have active, healthy roots. Look for plants that have small green buttons (cyathia) in the centre of the coloured bracts. These buttons will eventually develop into little yellow flowers. The showy coloured parts of poinsettias that most people think of as the flowers are actually coloured bracts (modified leaves). Protect plants from temperatures under 50 degrees F (10 C). Chilling causes the leaves to drop.

Place plants in a room where there is sufficient natural light. Poinsettias must have at least six hours of bright indirect light to thrive. Never allow them to sit in water, and only water when the soil feels dry to the touch. Keep the plant from touching cold windows. Keep poinsettias away from warm or cold drafts from radiators, air registers or open doors and windows. Ideally poinsettias require daytime temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees F (16 C to 21 C) and night time temperatures around 55 degrees F (13 C). High temperatures will shorten the plant’s life. Move the plant to a cooler room at night, if possible. Check the soil daily. Water plants thoroughly after purchase. Be sure to punch holes in foil so water can drain into a saucer, and discard excess water. Water when soil is dry. Wilted plants will tend to drop bracts sooner. Fertilize the poinsettia if you keep it past the holiday season. Apply a houseplant fertilizer once a month. Do not fertilize when it is in bloom. With good care, a poinsettia will last six to eight weeks in your home. With a little extra care, it is possible to keep your poinsettia year-round and have it bloom the following Christmas.

In February, your poinsettia flower will have faded and lateral growth will have begun. In March, remove flowers and cut stems to six inches. June 1, repot the plant in a larger pot, if necessary, and plant outside in the pot. July, pinch all lateral shoots to four inches. You can root shoots, if desired, then pot. End of August, dig up the pot and bring the poinsettia inside. Check for bugs prior to bringing it in the house. From Sept. 20 until Dec. 1, keep the poinsettia in light from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Place in a dark place (eg. closet) from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. By following these cyclical tips, your poinsettia will return to its full bloom later in December. The colours of the bracts are created through “photoperiodism,” meaning that they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row) to change colour. On the other hand, once poinsettias finish that process, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest colour.

A lot of time and money has gone into research and testing to prove that poinsettias are not poisonous.

This will be my last column for the year and I will be back on Jan. 9. I wish all of you merry Christmas, happiness and peace in your heart.

For information: 250-558-4556.

Jocelyne Sewell is a gardening enthusiast in Vernon and member of the Okanagan Gardens and Roses Club. Her column appears every other Wednesday.

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