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Care for Your Poinsettia
by Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Educator
During the holidays, poinsettias are the decorative plant of choice for many people. With proper care, poinsettias can be kept growing in the house during winter and brought back into full bloom in time for the next holiday season.
Care This Winter
In the next few weeks your poinsettia will do one of two things. It will either start to drop its leaves, or they will stay green and remain on the plant. If your poinsettia holds onto its leaves, treat it like any houseplant. Place it in a bright window, where it will receive maximum sunlight, and cool night temperatures (60-65 degrees). Keep the plant away from very cold drafts and furnace vents that will dry the plant out quickly and possibly even scorch the leaves. Apply a complete fertilizer for blooming plants, following labeled rates, every two weeks.
However, if the plant starts to lose its leaves, place it in a bright, cool location (50-55 degrees), such as a basement window ledge. Avoid locations with temperatures above 60° F degrees. Let the soil dry out, but never let it get so dry that the stems start to shrivel. Allow the plant to rest in this condition until spring.
In late April or early May, prepare a resting poinsettia for regrowth by cutting its stems back to about 3-5 inches above the soil. When more than one plant is in the same pot, replant the poinsettias into individual containers. Place your poinsettia in a bright, warm location and water it whenever the soil begins to dry.
As soon as night temperatures reach a minimum of 60 degrees, the plant can be set outside. Place it in a shady location for two to three weeks to allow for acclimatization and to prevent leaf sunscald, then sink the pot in a sunny location with well-drained soil. Turn the pot every few weeks to break off any roots that might be growing through the drainage holes.
Or you can continue to grow the poinsettia as a houseplant throughout the summer, which minimizes chances of insect and disease problems, such as whiteflies or spider mites.
Fertilization and Pruning
A resting poinsettia should be fertilized, with a complete blooming plant fertilizer following labeled rates, when its new shoots are about 1 inch long. Continue to fertilize the plant throughout the summer and fall at two week intervals.
Pruning a poinsettia will shape it into an attractive compact form, instead of allowing it to get tall and lanky. To prune, pinch or snip off 1-2 inches of the growing tips whenever the new growth reaches 4-6 inches long. Make your cuts at an angle, just above an outward facing leaf. The last pruning, before encouraging the plant to rebloom, should take place around late August.
When night temperatures dip below 55 or 60 degrees, if your poinsettia was outside, bring it indoors to a sunny location.
On September 25, begin the reblooming process by placing your plant in total darkness from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily, with night temperatures of 60-65 degrees. To provide dark conditions, put a cardboard box over the plant, or place it in a dark closet. Light from any lamps or streetlights will prevent normal poinsettia flowering. Continue this treatment until the plant begins showing color in late November.
During this time, continue to water and fertilizer your poinsettia normally and you should have a beautiful blooming plant, that you grew yourself, for the holidays.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office
Contact Information University of Nebraska-Lincoln
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