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Poinsettia Care

Like most families I have fond memories of potted poinsettias decorating the fireplace hearth with holiday cheer during December. My mom kept the blooms coming right into spring and then planted them in the garden to bloom outdoors the following winter. But then, I grew up in southern California where the winters are relatively warm and definitely mild.

Things have changed a bit since my childhood days, but I still buy poinsettias to bring that same holiday cheer inside our home. I picked up several at my local Kmart about a month ago, including the customary color of cherry red along with pink, variegated, and one streaked with multi-colors. (By the way, this color display comes not by way of its flowers–which are actually nondescript–but rather its ornate display of petal-like leaves known as bracts.)

The main difference is that now I live in Oregon, and this winter has been unseasonably cold. Still, my poinsettias will keep the color coming all winter long indoors. And with a few tweaks to basic care, they can spend the summer outside and return indoors to brighten our home with color when the holidays come calling once again.

Here’s how to care for your poinsettias and extend the life and beauty of this iconic holiday plant all winter long.

1. Poinsettias perform best in an area with lots of indirect light with average indoor temperatures between 60 to 70 degrees. For long-lasting color, keep plants away from cold air or drafts, and hot air (especially dry, hot air) from heated air vents, fireplaces, or over-heated rooms. Poinsettias are sensitive to sudden temperate changes. If temperatures are too cool, the leaves and bracts may wilt and eventually drop. Too hot and the bright color of the bracts will be cut short.

2. Keep the soil slightly moist and water thoroughly when the soil surface is dry to the touch. To ensure adequate drainage, punch holes or make cuts in the bottom of the decorative foil to allow water to drain, or place your plant in a decorative pot with drainage holes. Watering correctly is crucial as the plant will wilt with too much, and lower leaves will yellow and drop with too little.

3. If you want your poinsettia to rebloom the following season, cut the plant back to 6 inches in height in spring to encourage new growth. Fertilize every two to three weeks with a balanced all-purpose fertilizer once new growth appears. I like Jobes Organics Water Soluble All Purpose Fertilizer available at Kmart online.

4. Repot your poinsettia if needed and keep indoors until all danger of spring frost has passed and nighttime temperatures remain above 50 degrees. At that time you can move your poinsettia outside to a patio or sink the poinsettia pot to the rim in the ground. Choose an area with light shade and maintain watering and fertilizing as needed.

5. In July or August, pinch back each stem (leaving three or four leaves on each stem) to keep plants compact.

6. Sometime in late August to mid-September, bring the potted poinsettia back inside when nights turn chilly but before the first fall frost arrives.

7. From late September to late November, your poinsettia needs to be kept in complete darkness for 14 hours daily. Once the color shows in the bracts (usually in early to mid-December) move the plant back to its holiday home with indirect light. But no worries if you don’t want to bother with the details to get plants to rebloom. When the holiday season rolls around once again, just head out to your local Kmart and purchase new plants!

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  1. A lot depends on the temperature of the freeze (was it a light frost or a hard freeze), and how long the temperature/freeze lasted--all night or barely one hour. I would wait a month before cutting back, and it may help to fertilize at half strength with a liquid seaweed or kelp fertilizer. Make sure to keep the plant watered so that the soil is kept consistently moist, like a well-rung sponge. There are no guarantees, but it may be worth a try. Good luck!

  2. I live in South Louisiana and moved my potted poinsettias from the dark side of the house to the bright side around Christmas and it bloomed again. This had worked for me the year before. We had a recent freeze and the poor plant is now completely devoid of leaves. Is it dead or do you think I could cut back and hope for the best this spring?

    1. In response to LouisianaGardener

      We actually had a deep freeze in north Florida this year!

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