Keeping those poinsettias

Poinsettias are a widespread Christmas tradition both for gift-giving and holiday decorating. And even though they are common, they are one of my favorite holiday plants. Because I like them so much, I find it disappointing many of these lovely plants end up in the trash once the holidays are over. Poinsettias not only make a beautiful indoor plant all year long, but can also be coaxed to bloom again each year in time for Christmas.

Poinsettias like lots of bright, indirect sunlight and prefer humid conditions. Let the soil dry out between watering. The soil should be dry to the touch. Also, be sure not to let the plant stand water by leaving the saucer filled or letting water sit at the bottom of the foil, if the pot is wrapped.

Poinsettias are sensitive to extreme temperature, so don't place your plant next to a heater or near a drafty window or doorway. A daytime temp of around 65 degrees and nights around 60 degrees will provide perfect conditions for your poinsettia.

After it flowers, gradually decrease the water until the bracts, or colored leaves, all drop, then allow the plant to dry out completely. Store in a place with cooler temperatures (50 degrees).

When it really begins to warm up again in the spring, repot your poinsettia with fresh soil and gradually start to water and fertilize again. Around August, cut the plant back by a third. Don't prune your plant any later than September, however, if you wish to force it to bloom for Christmas.

Poinsettias bloom in response to shortening daylight hours. If you wish to coax your poinsettia to bloom in time for the holidays, you will need to put the plant in total darkness for at least twelve hours each night for approximately 10 weeks. Late September or early October is a good time to begin. You can place your plant inside a box or a closet to achieve complete darkness. Be sure to bring your plant out during the day and place it in a bright, sunny spot.

Poinsettias are a beautiful holiday tradition, but your enjoyment of these plants does not have to end when the Christmas tree comes down. With just a little effort, you can derive pleasure from your poinsettia all year long and bring it to bloom for many holiday seasons to come.

Anne Lenox Barlow has had experience in the agricultural field as a horticulture educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. She can be reached by e-mail at a.lennox.barlow@gmail.com.

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