Poinsettias are memorable for their red bracts (modified leaves) that are often mistaken for flower petals. The actual flowers of the poinsettias are at the center of the bracts. Careful breeding has resulted in over 100 different varieties ranging from white to pink to a mixture of shades. These plants are a perennial flowering shrub growing up to ten feet tall in their natural habitat. Poinsettias contain a milky sap which is helpful in propagation which can be achieved with a cutting and some rooting hormone available at most home improvement stores. Contrary to popular myth, poinsettias are not poisonous.
Growing Poinsettias in Your Garden
Growing a Poinsettia plant outdoors generally requires a minimum temperature of about 45° F.,
but they grow best when night temperatures are about 60°.
Poinsettias are only hardy in USDA zones 10-12, however, they will tolerate a VERY light frost.
In areas where the temperatures drop below this, I suppose that the most prudent method of keeping these holiday favorites growing year after year is to keep them in a sunken pot or container that can be brought into the house when the temperatures drop.
If you want to grow your poinsettia in the garden after the holiday season, make sure to keep it healthy while indoors by placing the plant in a sunny, draft free location and watering it when it is approaching dryness. Avoid sudden temperature changes.
When the leaves fall in late winter, cut the stems back to the two healthiest buds and reduce watering to the bare minimum.
When all danger of frost has passed you can move the plants outdoors.
Choose a well-draining location in full or partial sun preferably against a southern exposure wall to protect them from strong winds which would quickly tear them to shreds.
When new growth begins to show, feed with an all purpose water soluble fertilizer every other week, or use slow release pellets. Poinsettias should be grown in soil with a slightly acid pH (6.5).
Root disease is a major problem with Poinsettias, so garden soil is NOT recommended if you are repotting your plant to a larger pot.
Use only a sterilized, lightweight potting mix.
Pruning Poinsettia Plants
CAUTION: Poinsettia sap may irritate your skin, so I strongly advise using rubber gloves
whenever you are doing any pruning, pinching or cutting of these plants!
Poinsettias that are grown outdoors will often reach 8-10 feet in height, and can become quite leggy, so about every 2 months regular pruning is a must.
Pinching the tips will produce a bushier plant with smaller flower bracts.
Thinning the branches will produce larger flower bracts.
When purchasing a poinsettia look for a plant where little or now yellow pollen is showing on the flower clusters. This indicates that the plant is fresh. Bring it home immediately well protected from the elements. Never leave poinsettias in a cold care as even brief exposure to cold may damage this tropical plant. Find a place in your home that is protected from both warm and cold drafts. Ideally poinsettias thrive at a daytime temperature between 60 and 70 degrees. Nighttime temperature of about 55 degrees is ideal. Keeping the temperature low at night will lengthen the plant’s life. Check the soil daily and keep the plant in a well-drained pot. Water when the soil is dry. Only Fertilize (once a month with houseplant fertilizer) if you plan on keeping the plant past the holiday season.
After the holiday season is over (February or early March), cut back the plant to 4-6 inches in height. Fertilize with regular houseplant fertilizer about once a month and water as usual. Repot in late spring or early summer to a container about 2 inches larger. Make sure the soil is moist. Keep plant in a sunny window. You can also start new poinsettias using the cuttings and some rooting hormone. Dip the cuttings in the hormone powder and place in moist quality potting soil. Make sure the new plants are well watered.
The poinsettia can be placed outdoors after all danger of frost is over and the night temperature is above 60 degrees. If you put your plant outside, choose a shady place at first until the plant is acclimated to the sun. Plants get sunburn just as humans can. If you choose, you may sink the pot directly into a flower bed turning it about a quarter turn each week to prevent rooting through the bottom and promote even exposure to the sun. During the summer, fertilizer can be increased to once every two weeks. To encourage a bushy plant with lots of flowers, pinch or cut growing shoots to promote branching off every 3-4 weeks. Make sure you leave two or three large fully expanded leaves below the pinch. Continue this practice until mid-August.
Before the night temperatures fall below 55 degrees bring the poinsettia indoors to a sunny location preferably a southern window. Check for pests and remove any diseased portions of the plant. Reduce the amount of fertilizer at this time to once a month. To get the plant to flower you need to make sure the plant experiences short days and long nights. This means that during the night there must not be any light. One way to achieve this is to place the plant in a closet or basement (as long as it’s not too cold) at night. You can also cover the plant with a heavy cloth or paper bag. Even short periods of light can interfere with flowering. Begin the dark period at 5PM every day beginning in late September or early October and ending in December. Dark periods must last12 hours for flowers to set. In 60 to 85 days (depending on the variety) the flowers should mature. During the day, give the poinsettia as much light as possible. Once the bracts are fully expanded dark periods are not as important but do still help with the plant growth and development.
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