TLC for Your Poinsettia
Tis the holiday season and poinsettia plants are blooming in thousands of households everywhere, but sadly, most of them will be in the trash can right after the holidays. This is a shame because the blooming life of these beautiful plants can extended with a little care and some tricks.
Poinsettias are native to Mexico and Central America and they feature beautifully colored leaves called bracts which come in vibrant shades of red, pink, white or variegated colors and pretend to be flowers. The actual flowers are the small yellow clusters in the center of the bract.
As a side note, poinsettias are not poisonous, although they may be slightly toxic to those people with a latex intolerance and may cause an allergic reaction if handled.
Being a tropical plant, poinsettias are extremely sensitive to the cold, so when purchasing your poinsettia, if the outside temperature is below 50 degrees F, wrap the plant for protection from the cold air.
In order to keep the plant in tip top condition, place it in bright diffused light away from hot or cold drafts. Night time temperatures of 55 to 65 degrees and 70 degrees during the day are ideal along with high humidity. If your house is dry because of the heating system or your climate, frequent misting is recommended. The bracts will drop if there are excessive drafts or the moisture and temperature fluctuates a lot. Let the soil dry before watering, check by feeling the soil. Do not let the poinsettia sit in water, remove the foil cover or put a drain hole in the bottom.
This coming summer after all chance of frost has passed and night temperatures average 55° F or above, you will be able to plant your poinsettia out of doors directly into the garden or into a pot. Continue regular watering during the growth period, and fertilize every 2 to 3 weeks. Trim into a pleasing round shape and fertilize with a general purpose organic amendment such as peat moss or leaf mold every 2 to 3 weeks
Forcing a poinsettia into bloom can be a little tricky and relies on the amount of sun the plant receives in the period leading up to Christmas.
Starting on October 1, keep the plants in total darkness for 14 continuous hours each and every night and then exposing them to daylight the next day. Accomplish this by moving the plants to a totally dark room, or by covering them overnight with a large box. It has to be total darkness; any small amount of light will set the progress back. During the daytime in October, November and early December, poinsettias require 6 - 8 hours of bright sunlight daily, with night temperatures between 60 - 70° F. Temperatures outside of this range could also delay flowering.
Continue the normal watering and fertilizer program. Carefully following this program for 8 to 10 weeks and with a little luck you should have a colorful display of blooms in time for the holiday season.