Industry experts share tips and tricks to care for holiday poinsettias
Euphorbia pulcherrima, more commonly referred to as the poinsettia, was originally discovered near present-day Taxco, Mexico and the valleys surrounding Cuernavaca, Mexico. Ancient Aztec Native Americans cultivated the plant and used it to make dyes, applied it to skin infections and used it to treat fever, among many other things.
In 1825, Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first ambassador of the U.S. and Mexico, was intrigued by the plant during a visit to Taxco, and sent a clipping back to his home in South Carolina where he propagated the first U.S. Euphorbia pulcherrima.
In 1833, the plant was given the common name poinsettia after Joel Poinsett.
The commercial poinsettia industry was pioneered almost a century later in the 1920s, when Albert and Paul Ecke began growing poinsettias at the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, Calif., which is still one of the largest poinsettia producers to date.
Today, nothing says Christmas quite like the bold and beautiful poinsettia, and several expert sources have offered tips and tricks to help keep its cheery, bright appearance this holiday season.
Temperature and light
In the Nov. 21 episode of Kansas State University’s (KSU) Agriculture Today podcast, KSU Research and Extension Horticulture Agent Gregg Eyestone notes the first thing to keep in mind when purchasing a poinsettia is to be mindful when transporting it home.
“Poinsettias are from sub-tropic regions so they like warm temperatures,” he says. “Often, the temperature of the car we are transporting them home in is cold, so we want to make sure we have the heat on and head straight home. We definitely don’t want to leave them in the car while we continue shopping and running errands.”
On the topic of temperature, many sources note it is important to keep poinsettias at a steady, comfortable 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Eyestone explains poinsettias should be kept in a location with minimal draft, whether it be hot drafts of air from a furnace vent or cold drafts of air from an opening door. An FTD by Design blog post, written by FTD Fresh, points out dramatic drops in temperature will cause poinsettia leaves to wilt prematurely.
Additionally, because poinsettias come from sunny locations, they should be kept in well-lit areas with a lot of indirect sunlight.
“East-facing windows are best so they can catch the morning’s glow and bask in the afternoon shade,” states FTD Fresh. “Make sure no part of the plant touches the windowpane though, as this may harm the poinsettia.”
Water and moisture
Horticulture experts emphasize the importance of good drainage and avoiding overwatering when caring for a holiday poinsettia plant.
In order to increase drainage, an article in Southern Living encourages individuals to take off the foil around the pot when they get their plants home and to place them on a saucer or plate.
“Soil moisture is important, but don’t overwater,” reads the article. “Be sure to avoid standing water in the plant saucer.”
“Poinsettias should be watered whenever the soil feels dry or when some of the leaves are wilting. The key is to let water drain out of the bottom and make sure the poinsettia is not sitting in water,” FTD Fresh reiterates. “If the area a poinsettia is in tends to be dry, plant owners may find themselves watering it daily.”
Eyestone explains his trick to determining if a poinsettia plant needs water is to pick it up and evaluate the weight of the plant.
“If it is fairly heavy, individuals can wait awhile before watering it, but if it is light, they might want to add water,” he states, further noting watering poinsettias with room temperature water is best.
In fact, he encourages individuals to fill up a watering can at night and let it reach room temperature before giving it to the plant.
FTD Fresh also suggests misting poinsettias daily to simulate the tropical climate the flower originated from.
after the holidays
Although many people only keep their poinsettias through the holiday season, it is possible, with a lot of care and patience, to help them re-bloom and keep them year-round. Those who do not live in coastal and tropical climates will only be able to accomplish this by keeping the plant indoors.
“Poinsettias can be grown indoors as a houseplant, but those who choose to do so will need to accept their plant will never be as showy in bloom as when it first came from a commercial greenhouse, which provided perfect amounts of light, humidity, water, fertilizer and growth regulator,” notes Southern Living.
Through the months of January to March, FTD Fresh says to continue watering poinsettias whenever the surface soil seems dry.
“In April, begin gradually decreasing the amount of water the poinsettia gets. Allow the soil to get dry between waterings. However, avoid allowing the stem to shrivel up as this is a sign of dying,” noted FTD Fresh. “After a week or two has passed, move the poinsettia to an area with no sunlight for about 12 to 15 hours every night and keep the plant at 60 degrees Fahrenheit.”
In May, it is recommended to cut the plant back to four to six inches tall, move it to a slightly larger pot with good drainage in a well-lit area and add new potting soil to fill extra space.
“Keep the soil moist, but never soggy. Provide bright light. Feed weekly with liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength,” says Southern Living.
After the last frost and when temperatures are consistently above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, Southern Living and FTD Fresh suggest moving the plant outside. Every three to four weeks from June to September they say to pinch back growing shoots and leave only five to six green leaves per stem.
In October, before the first frost, it is recommended to bring the plant back into the house where it needs 14 hours of complete darkness a day for nearly six weeks.
“We recommend individuals move their poinsettia to a closet when they get home from work and place it in a sunny window the next morning when they leave for work,” says Southern Living. “Any exposure to light during those 14 hours of darkness a day can delay the blooming process.”
“Later in November, when the bracts at the top begin showing color, the dark treatment is no longer necessary,” Southern Living adds. “During this time, the plant can be kept in a well-lit window.”
Lastly, FTD Fresh says individuals can stop fertilizing their plants around mid-December.
“If everything went as planned, the poinsettia should be back in bloom and individuals can begin caring for it like they did when they first got it,” FTD Fresh states.
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.