Prepping poinsettia for Christmas

New red leaves appearing among green poinsettia foliage.

It gets all the votes at Christmas for its bracts and foliage match the colors of the party: red and green.

But poinsettia also comes in many other hues and can hold its rank in decorating our homes all year round!

Poinsettia, or “Christmas star”, invades garden stores like gremlins when the end-of-year feasts come nigh. It owes this to its colored bracts that surround the flowers. Red bracts are most common, but there are cultivars that are pink, salmon orange, yellow, cream, white, mottled, all with bright green leaves in the background.

Poinsettia grows in the wild in Mexico where it easily caps off at six feet (two meters) tall. In more temperate climates, it grows much smaller, even sometimes dwarfish, which is ideal to decorate tables.

Don’t throw your poinsettia away!

Too often, poinsettia has a sad fate once the party is over… and ends up in the trash (or, slightly better, the compost pile…)! After the blooming, simply place it in a cool room and give it water at regular intervals. At the end of spring, reduce watering. When the leaves start falling off, the plant is entering its dormant phase. When this occurs, let the soil dry up completely for a month. At the end of this phase, cut it back quite short, 4 inches (10 cm), and water to trigger the vegetation phase. Place it then in a warm spot.

Poinsettia appreciates surrounding temperature between 60 and 74°F (15 and 23°C) while avoiding hot, dry air and drafts. Proper moisture must be ensured (immerse the pot in water at room temperature, without ever letting water accumulate in the saucer) and a lot of light. You can bring the plant outdoors between May and September and feed it fertilizer over the summer.

How to make poinsettia red again

Red poinsettia flowers for the second time.The challenge is to make the poinsettia bracts turn red again for the second Christmas in a row! These colored leaves only appear during days with the shortest daylight hours. To make them turn red, you need to restrain exposure to light. As early as September, place it in a room that is exclusively lit up by natural light, and check that it stays in complete darkness for 14 hours on a 24 hour day. Do this for eight weeks!

Another solution is to stash your plant in a closet every day from 6 pm till 8 am the next morning… or cover it with a carton box for that span of time. Once the eight weeks are over, treat your poinsettia normally again. At night, let it sleep at a temperature of 60 to 65°F (15 to 18°C). And it will flower again – hopefully! – at Christmas.

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Red poinsettia growing in a pot by Andreas Lischka under Pixabay license
Pink poinsettia blooms by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke under Pixabay license