Beautiful red, pink and white poinsettias are the most popular flowers of Christmas and the surrounding holidays. Beginning in late November, just in time for your Thanksgiving gatherings, you’ll find abundant poinsettia displays in local grocery stores and garden centers.
Poinsettias are hard to resist, especially when you find the quart size blooms at Black Friday sales. When you bring poinsettia plants home, arrange them around your Christmas tree, by the fireplace, in a sunny kitchen window, and as a centerpiece on your dining room table.
There’s a lot of work that goes into producing the plants that you purchase. Nursery growers start poinsettias from stem cuttings in early fall and use techniques like pinching to create a full plant. They regulate greenhouse light and temperature to obtain the rich colors on what are usually called petals on the poinsettia.
However, the brightly colored parts of the plant are not petals; they are modified leaves called bracts. The actual poinsettia flower is the small yellow part in the center.
Poinsettias are native to Mexico; and in their native habitat they grow to the size of shrubs. For the holidays, they are cultivated and sold as compact annuals.
You can keep your poinsettias looking fresh through the holidays by treating them like houseplants. Make sure they have plenty of sunlight and keep them watered. Our heated homes can dry out potted plants. Touch the soil every few days and if it feels dry, give it a drink of water. I think it’s easiest to place potted plants in a sink to water them. (Deep laundry room sinks are ideal for watering large potted plants.) Let the pot thoroughly drain and return the plant to the display.
More poinsettia tips:
• Place plants away from drafts and vents.
• There’s no need to fertilize the plant while it’s in bloom.
• Enjoy throughout the holidays.
There’s a popular belief that poinsettias are toxic to cats and dogs. They are not poisonous, but pets who nibble on poinsettia plants may get upset tummies. If you have young children and pets, follow best practices and put the plants out of their reach. Read more on the ASPCA website (https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/tox
Poinsettia Care in the New Year
There’s a no-guilt answer to the question “what do I do with poinsettias after the holidays?” The solution is to treat poinsettias like any annual in our climate and compost it after it finishes blooming. If you have a compost pile, dump out the plant, stir it into the mix and recycle the pot. (Many garden centers will take nursery plastic for recycling.) If you have a yard, but no compost pile, find a corner and dump out the plant.
You may be the kind of gardener who likes a challenge and wants to keep the poinsettia going as long as possible. Here’s what you need to do to keep the plant alive after the holidays:
• Continue to treat the plant as a houseplant by placing it in a room with bright filtered sunlight.
• Continue to water, letting the soil dry out between waterings.
• In March or April, trim back the plant stems to about 8 inches in height.
• You can repot it with fresh potting mix and a larger pot.
• You can also fertilize with a balanced fertilizer every few weeks according to label directions.
• In spring, after the danger of frost is passed (in our area that’s late April), and when the soil temperature warms to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, plant the poinsettia in a sunny garden spot. A scoop of rich organic compost and a blanket of mulch will give it a good start outside.
• Keep the plant watered and fertilized throughout the summer. Poinsettias are annuals in our zone 7b climate, and will last right up until first frost in fall.
Learn more about poinsettia care including how to bring the plant inside and get another season of blooms for the next holidays on UGA’s Cooperative Extension site. https://ugaurbanag.com/care-of-poinsettias.
Additional information/publications on horticulture can be found at the University of Georgia’s Extension Website, http://extension.uga.edu/. In addition, the local UGA Douglas County Extension Office is available to assist: email@example.com or 770-920-7224. For suggestions for future articles, you may also email douglasaskamaster firstname.lastname@example.org.