The poinsettia is best known for its beauty at Christmas time. Most people throw them away after Christmas, when they start dropping leaves and appearing ill thinking there is no chance of blooming again.
With a little know-how, your poinsettia can bloom year after year. The traditional poinsettia was red, white poinsettias later became available.
Currently, there are over 100 varieties of poinsettias with special designs and colors ranging in shades of red, white, pink, light green, variegated, dotted, and marbled.
Have you ever received a unique poinsettia and wished that it would bloom again next year? Perhaps you even nurtured it for a year with water and sun only to be disappointed with nothing but green leaves at Christmastime.
If you keep your poinsettia, it can grow quite large. Poinsettias are native to Mexico. In the wild, they can grow between ten to twenty feet tall and live for many years.
Most growers use a growth retardant to prevent tall leggy plants and encourage short, bushier growth conducive to a potted gift plant.
If you have ever seen a huge poinsettia in a public setting such as a large lobby or church, you will recall that it is a breathtaking sight!
Poinsettias of this magnitude did not grow in just one year. They are several years old and amazingly beautiful!
With a little knowledge, persistence, and patience, you can also display a splendid poinsettia and be the envy of all your holiday guests.
The first and most important piece of information that you need to know is that poinsettias are light sensitive.
Poinsettias bloom only under a strict schedule of exposure to light and darkness. This is very critical and any interruption in the routine can cause bloom failure.
The colorful leaves often thought of as the flowers, are not. The flowers are the small insignificant centers of each group of leaves (see photos).
The leaves turn color due to cyclical changes that the poinsettia is exposed to in its native environment, giving the appearance of flowers. We need to emulate that environment to produce the same appearance of blooming.
Starting early in October, the poinsettia must be exposed to 12 hours of bright light or sun and 12 hours of total, uninterrupted darkness. Some cultivars require up to 14 hours of darkness.
It can be placed in an unused room or closet. For extra insurance, a black garbage bag can be placed over the top to protect it from any light leaking in through the window or if in a closet, light leaking in from the room.
Adhere to this schedule for 8-10 weeks, depending on the cultivar. When the poinsettia is almost fully turned color (but not less than eight weeks), it may then be moved to its permanent location as the leaves continue to turn color and peak toward Christmastime.
If you started a week or two late, your poinsettia will still bloom but more likely around New Year’s. It is important to provide a full 8-10 weeks of 12/12 or 10/14 light/dark schedule to promote blooming even if a bit late.
Other tips to keep your poinsettia healthy during the holiday season:
Water when soil is slightly dry to the touch.
Do not allow the pot to sit in water.
Provide plenty of bright light or sun.
Do not allow leaves to touch a freezing window (poinsettias are not cold hardy).
Keep the poinsettia away from excess heat or cold drafts.
Poinsettias are happiest at 60-70F. They will suffer below 55F and over 80F.
Cooler nighttime temperatures (60F) will extend the blooming time by a couple of weeks and keep the poinsettia looking fresh and healthy.
Do not fertilize while in bloom.
Poinsettias can be challenging, yet fun to grow. New varieties are continually being developed, and it is always exciting to see new varieties as they become available.
If your poinsettia has not yet been exposed to longer nights well into October, get started immediately before it is entirely too late for this year. If you get a new poinsettia this Christmas, do not throw it away!
With a little care, the poinsettia will make a beautiful year-around foliage plant and will be ready to bloom again next year.
If you have no interest in growing plants of your own, then give it to a special gardening friend. You will certainly put a smile on their face.
Common Problems of Growing Poinsettia and How to Solve Them
As mentioned earlier, poinsettias are easy to care for and provide months of rich green foliage in the non- blooming months. However, some things can occasionally go wrong.
Here is a list of common problems and solutions to keep your poinsettia beautiful for many years.
Common Problem 1: My poinsettia did not bloom
Starting in October, they need special conditions to promote blooming (we’ve talked about this earlier.)
Common Problem 2: My entire plant is drooping
Either it is thirsty or too cold. Keep at a temperature of at least 55F but away from drafts or blasts of intermittent cold air (such as near a door). Keep evenly moist during active growing months or when in bloom.
Common Problem 3: Leaves are shriveled and dry
Poinsettia is not getting enough water. Do not let soil dry out. When watering, water thoroughly until water drains out the bottom.
If you have a drainage tray under the poinsettia, be sure to discard excess water after a few minutes. Likewise, if poinsettia is outside in a pot, do not allow rainwater to stand in the drainage tray.
This condition can also be caused by gas fumes. Be sure the poinsettia is not being exposed to gas by nearby cars or appliance exhaust. Check room for any dangerous indoor fumes.
Common Problem 4: Color of the bracts and leaves look faded and patchy
Poinsettia is too wet, overwatered, or getting root rot. Cut back on watering and do not allow sitting in water.
Common Problem 5: Leaves are yellow, curled, and are dropping off
Some leaf drop will occur after blooming, but these symptoms typically indicate that the poinsettia is too hot and dry (air not soil). Move to a cooler location and try to increase humidity.
Common Problem 6: Leaves look pale and colored bracts are dropping off
Location is too dark. Move to a brighter location.
Common Problem 7: Leaves have a white powder on the surface
This is a fungal disease – grey mold or powdery mildew. Move away from other plants immediately as it can spread to other plants that are also susceptible to this disease. Treat with a fungicide according to manufacturer’s directions.
Common Problem 8: The leaves are streaked or marbled with silver
This is a symptom of silver leaf virus which is untreatable. Burn the plant if possible. Do not recycle into compost.
Common Problem 9: There are tiny green and white insects under the leaves.
The green insects are aphids and the white are whitefly. Both insects are treatable with natural and/or chemical insecticides. Follow the manufacturer’s directions.