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Proper care can make poinsettias last for years to come

Posted: December 27, 2015 - 12:03am

Poinsettias fill homes with holiday cheer, but when the Christmas decorations are packed away the plants sadly tend to go.

Some folks have no problem sending these festive beauties directly to the trash can.

Others treat it like a regular houseplant until the colorful leaves drop off in spring. But a select few will hold onto their poinsettias with visions of reblooming these beautiful plants for next Christmas. It isn’t an easy thing to do, but poinsettia plants can last for years if they are treated right, according to Dr. Paul Thomas, professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Here are Dr. Thomas’ top tips for caring for poinsettias:

1. Before you buy a poinsettia, inspect it to make sure it has strong, sturdy stems, dense foliage all the way down its stems, that its bracts (colored leaves) have no blemishes and that its small yellow flowers have just barely opened.

You can also carefully remove the plant from its pot to inspect the plant’s root system. If the plant has just a few roots or lots of dark brown roots, don’t buy it. Healthy poinsettias have plenty of tan and white roots.

2. These plants are susceptible to root rot, so don’t overwater them or let them sit in water filled saucers. The holiday foil that florists wrap around some poinsettia pots can trap water in the pot, so it’s best to remove it. Only water the plant when the soil surface feels dry, and add water just until water drains out of the bottom of the pot.

3. Poinsettias prefer warm temperatures and full sun, but they can spend a few weeks on a fireplace hearth or in the shade of a Christmas tree with the proper care. “During the holidays, you can place poinsettias just about anywhere to liven things up,” Thomas said. “They’ll last about three weeks in fairly dark places. While it’s in the dark, water only when the soil is dry. And don’t fertilize it. Overwatering or fertilizing your poinsettia during the holidays when it is in dark conditions is the most common cause of rapid death.”

4. After the holidays, poinsettia caregivers should move them to a sunny window and apply a little houseplant fertilizer. “The bracts may begin to fall off fast,” Thomas said. “This is normal. If they last until March, your poinsettia was very happy where you put it.” In April cut the plant back to about 10 inches or until there are four to six nodes of the stem above the soil. “At this point, the poinsettia can be grown (in Georgia) outdoors in full sun,” Thomas said. “If watered and fertilized, poinsettias will grow great outdoors. Trim them in June and plant them in one-gallon pots or large indoor planters.”

5. An outdoor poinsettia needs to be fertilized every week with a basic houseplant fertilizer during the spring and summer. “If watered and fertilized properly, poinsettias will grow quite large, as high and wide as 5 feet,” Thomas said.

6. To force your repotted poinsettia to bloom, cover the plant after 6 p.m. starting Sept. 22 and uncover it at 7 a.m. Do this until about Nov. 10. This process will trigger the poinsettia to make new, colorful bracts and flowers just in time for the holidays.

Tripp Williams, Columbia County’s agriculture and natural resources extension agent, can be reached at (706) 541-4011 or trippj@uga.edu.

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