Poinsettias may be a festive favourite, but they’re well-known for being frustratingly difficult plants to care for. That glossy plant from the supermarket soon withers away, with it’s formerly bright green and red leaves soon turning brown and dropping off.
So what can be done to keep your Poinsettia in the perfect condition for the longest time possible..?
Take A Hint from Nature
Poinsettia’s originate from rather more tropical parts of the world than your local grocery store. Euphorbia pulcerrima, as it is known to scientists, hail naturally from balmy Mexico, where they enjoy year-round temperatures of 15-25’C, high humidities and bright sunlight.
This is quite different to the average windowsill or dresser at home.
There’s more: they’re also one of the more sensitive plants to significant changes in temperature, which can quickly lead to them losing all their leaves.
Fortunately, once you understand where these plants have evolved to live, there are a number of ways to keep your Poinsettia in perfect condition right throughout the Christmas season.
Even better, properly cared for a Poinsettia may even become a permanent fixture around your home, regrowing those attractive red bracts in time for next year.
Buy the Right Plant
First and foremost, if you’re going to have success with your Poinsettia then you need to start out with a healthy plant. Any specimen which is already showing signs of distress – such as shrivelled or dropped leaves – should be avoided at all costs, as resurrecting such a plant will try the patience of even the most experienced plantsman.
Instead, aim for a fresh, healthy and bushy plant that looks as healthy as can be. Bonus points if the plant has only recently arrived in the shop, as there is less chance that the shock will affect your Poinsettia later in life.
Avoid Changes in Temperature
Poinsettia’s hate sudden changes in temperature. Bearing in mind that your plant will likely be removed from a centrally-heated shop, driven home in the cold and then instantly placed into your warm home with is not ideal.
There’s more. Once at home, while your central heating may tick away merrily all the time you’re at home, it’s just as likely that your heating stays off during the day.
So first and foremost, aim to make buying your Poinsettia the very last thing you do before heading for home. Don’t buy it, pop it in the car, and then disappear off for a few more hours of shopping.
Once home, aim to identify the area of your home where the temperature will remain most steady.
Keep Them Warm
Ideally, Poinsettia’s should be shielded from any temperatures below 13’C. This means that unheated conservatories or spare rooms probably aren’t the best place for them.
Instead, consider a warm living room, where the residual warmth will keep your plant warm and comfortable all day long.
When placing your Poinsettia on the windowsill, try to avoid the leaves pressing against the window pane. Such leaves can frequently get too cold during the night, and so may quickly turn brown.
Poinsettias are more used to bright, Central American weather than our grey, hazy excuse for sunshine. To give your Poinsettia the best possible chance of thriving, place them on a sunny south-facing windowsill where they’ll get as much sunshine as possible during the winter.
It’s not just the temperature that Poinsettia’s are sensitive to; they’re also just as fussy about how they’re watered.
Firstly, your Poinsettia should never be waterlogged. Aim to only water when the compost has started to dry out.
Secondly, and just as importantly, Poinsettia’s loathe the dry air that is found in our homes. There are a few ways to avoid this. The first is to spray your Poinsettia using a houseplant spray gun two or three times a week. Be sure to use tepid water to avoid too much of a shock.
An alternative solution is to place your Poinsettia into a tray filled with gravel. Water can then be added to the tray. In this way the water will slowly evaporate, creating a humid micro-climate for your plant, while the gravel prevents your Poinsettia’s roots from getting too wet.
Like any plant, Poinsettia’s need suitable nutriment, and being kept in the same compost year round can quickly use up all the essential nutrients. To keep your Poinsettia healthy year-round, purchase a good-quality house plant feed, such as Baby Bio, and feed your plant regularly according to the manufacturers instructions.
How to Get Your Poinsettia to Bloom Again Next Christmas
Let’s be honest for a moment; getting your Poinsettia to bloom again next year is possible, but it’s also quite a lot of work. As a result, many people opt to dispose of their Poinsettia in the New Year, and simply replace it the following Christmas. If you would like to try your hand, however, here’s how to do it…
Follow the steps above to keep your Poinsettia in the best possible health. Over time you’ll find that the red blooms start to fade, and the plants growth slows down. This is when your Poinsettia enters a dormant “hibernation” phase to recover from all it’s festive efforts.
As you see the bloom fading, prune back your plant to roughly 6″ in height, and reduce the amount of water provided. Your Poinsettia may look a little sad right now, but keep the faith and within a few months you should start to see healthy new shoots appearing.
As the new growth begins, things start to get exciting. Most experts recommend placing your Poinsettia outdoors when the risk of frost has passed, often in a shady area of your garden.
Feed it regularly, and pinch back the shoots to keep your plant looking as bush and healthy as possible. The speed of growth can be quite impressive at this stage, as sunshine and warm temperatures work their magic. If you’re seeing this level of growth then you’re well on your way to Poinsettia-nirvana.
As the evenings start to draw in it’s time to prepare your Poinsettia for Christmas blooming. To do so, firstly bring it inside, away from autumn chills. Then the hard work begins. You’ll need to provide at least 12 hours of solid darkness every single night for a period of 10 weeks.
In order to bloom in time for Christmas, therefore, you’ll want to start the preparation around the middle of September.
Each night, place your Poinsettia into a dark cupboard – or even cover it with a box. Experts report that it is critical that your plant should be in total darkness as even the lights from your TV or suchlike can disrupt this most important stage. So give your plant total darkness for at least 12 hours every night, before placing it onto your windowsill during the day.
If you’ve managed to keep up with this rigorous schedule, you should start to see the red buds forming, which is a sign of success! You can now give up on the forced darkness, and place your plant confidently in pride of place. Within a few weeks those buds should be forming into brilliant red bracts, ready to brighten your home during dull winter days.