Poinsettias have come along way from their humble origins in the tropical forests of Mexico. What was once a tall, weedy looking plant has become a flower that is synonymous with the holiday season.
Myself, I have never been a particular fan of the classic red poinsettia, but I doubt my views are widely shared. With sales of over $250* million, Poinsettias are one of the best-selling potted plants in U.S. and the Canada. And amazingly enough, most of these sales are generated in the short, six-week period that leads up to the Christmas holidays.
Here's another interesting statistic: it is estimated that 80% of Poinsettia purchases are made by women.
Is it any wonder then that many of the newer introductions have colors that are meant to appeal to particularly to women: soft rose, bubble-gum-pink, purple, white, yellow and a mix of colors. To go along with the new colors are pretty sounding names like "Love U Pink"and "Winter Rose Pink". There is even a series named "Princettia".
Caring for a Poinsettia
Somewhat ironically, this Christmas favourite is a tropical plant. Any Poinsettia you purchase in the coming weeks was most likely grown in a greenhouse where the temperature ranged between 60-70 degrees F. That means caring for a Poinsettia in the average home can be challenging. Getting it to re-flower can be even more so!
To keep your Poinsettia healthy after the holidays, you need a warm, sunny window that mimics the warm greenhouse where it was grown. Make sure your Poinsettia doesn't touch the window pane. Cold glass will do it no favours! Another thing to avoid is placing your plant in a spot where there is the likelihood of a cold draft.
Check the soil in the pot frequently to make sure it is not bone dry. When you do water your Poinsettia, make sure the soil is evenly wet. Add a water soluble fertilizer to your watering can once or twice a month.
A sign that you aren't watering your Poinsettia often enough is leaf drop. A combination of yellow leaves and leaf drop is a sign you are watering too often.
Getting a Poinsettia to Re-bloom
Poinsettias are members of the Euphorbiaceae or Spurge family. The colorful blooms that we associate with a Poinsettia are not actually flowers, they are "bracts" which are a modified type of leaf.
In February, you may notice that the flowers on the plant you purchased in December have begun to fade and new side shoots have begun to appear. Cut back the flowering stems to about 6" leaving one of the two leaves in each stem. Sadly, this may make your plant look a bit homely for a while. New growth should appear mid-spring. Repot your Poinsettia as necessary.
If desired, a Poinsettia can move outside once all danger of frost has passed and temperatures have warmed. Choose a location in the garden that has light shade. Keep an eye on the soil in the plant's pot to make sure it does not dry out completely.
Mid-summer pinch the plant back a couple of inches to avoid leggy growth. Well before fall frost strikes, bring your Poinsettia indoors. Again, place it in a sunny window and fertilize it every other week.
Days with shortened sunlight hours are necessary to get a Poinsettia to re-bloom. At the end of September, move your Poinsettia to a warm spot that is in total darkness from 5pm to 8 am each day. When the colorful bracts appear sometime in November, move the plant back to a sunny window.
The plant that you see here is one of the new introductions Poinsettia, Euphorbia Pulcherrima 'Jingle Bell Rock'. The splashes of red on cream give it a dramatic look.
Have you had success with keeping a poinsettia happy and healthy? I know of one woman in California who has childhood memories of 10 ft plants growing in their front yard. Several gardeners have told me that their plant faithfully re-bloom...but only in summer.
Lots of people find them to be great houseplants. How about you?
More Information and Links: Statistics in this post are drawn from this article by the University of Illinois Extension. There is also information on the history and care of Poinsettia to be found by clicking the link.