A native of southern Mexico, the poinsettia blooms in December and was introduced to North America two centuries ago. Since then, it’s been symbolic of the holiday season, with more than 34 million sold in the U.S. each year.
The poinsettia’s loveliness stems not from its blossoms, but from its leaves – called bracts – that change color when the plant forms flowers. There are more than 100 varieties of poinsettias, ranging from red, salmon, and apricot to yellow, cream, and white, along with marbled varieties blending several colors together.
While poinsettias are pretty easy to maintain, making them bloom a second (and a third!) time takes some effort and patience. But boy is it worth it! Here are some tips to try:
• Poinsettias need bright light, and their soil needs to dry up a bit between waterings. They love a splash of liquid fertilizer, too. Once the holidays are behind us, however, let your plant go dormant: Water just once a week.
• The bracts will fade and drop off, and when they do, cut the stems back to just below the flowers. Move your plants to a cool place, then stand back and let them be, watering a small amount of water now and then.
• Once spring (finally!) arrives, and nighttime temperatures reach above 55° F, it’s safe to move your poinsettias outside, where they’ll get better light. Don’t worry if they grow but stay green – that’s normal. Water regularly. In July, prune your plants by up to one-third and if necessary, put them in a bigger pot, adding lots of fresh potting soil and another spritz of fertilizer every few weeks. Let them enjoy the summer season!
• Now comes the hard work: When temperatures start to drop, bring your poinsettias inside. From mid-September until late October (for at least 40 days), your plants need at least 15 hours of uninterrupted darkness each day. The idea is tricking the poinsettias into thinking it’s winter! Store them in a spot where the temperature hovers at around 65F. This helps generate new flowers. Cover your plants every evening before dinner with a thick black cloth, so that no light can come through at all, and leave them covered until the next morning. Given them about eight hours of sunlight.
By early November, your poinsettias should begin showing color; now you can put away their blankets and put them in bright, indirect sunlight. A few weeks later, the bracts should be brightly colored, and you’ll have gorgeous plants for the holiday season!