After the tree itself, no plant proclaims “Christmas” like the poinsettia. The workhorse of holiday cheer, poinsettias were brought to the US in the Nineteenth Century. The botanist who discovered the plant in Mexico, went on to become the first US ambassador there. A county in Arkansas, Poinsett, is named for his family. In the wild, a poinsettia is a rangy, spidery shrub, which can grow to a height of 15 feet, with only modest red blooms.
But let’s dispense with all that background; what we really care about are the more than 100 varieties now grown for use during the holidays. With painterly names like ‘Premium Picasso,’ ‘Monet Twilight,’ ‘Shimmer,’ and ‘Ombre Hues,’ the new hybrids come in a myriad of sizes and shapes, and the blooms range from glacial, to tricolor, to deep ruby . With so many choices, and such easy availability, you should group poinsettias in drifts, and think about adding some of the new colors. And maintenance is easy.
You’ll want to give your poinsettias light, so try to group them near windows, especially south-facing. Don’t place them in direct sun, or touching windows. The glass will conduct heat or cold, and burn leaves or blooms. Water sparingly, but don’t let them completely dry out, which will make petals or leaves drop. And keep them out of drafts, especially heat sources. They look great massed around fireplaces, but you’ll want to monitor them, if you’re actively lighting fires.
You might like the idea of keeping them to re-flower next Christmas, but know that you’ll have to keep a schedule of maintenance to do so. Here are some steps: slow the watering around the first of April; by the middle of May, cut the stems back to around four inches above the soil line and repot in a soilless mix. Water thoroughly, and place in sunny window. The temperature needs to be constant, at around 65 top 75 degrees, so inside may be better right now, than outside. By June, you can move the plant outdoors, in a place with a bit of shade. Fertilize, and pinch back new growth to encourage bushiness. Remember, these plants want to grow tall, so this step is important. Continue this care until October 1. Now, the real diligence begins.
Poinsettias are ‘short-day’ plants, which means they only bloom when the nights are longer than days. Take your poinsettia and place in a closet with no light at 5 PM daily, and don’t remove until 8 AM the next morning. You must maintain this daily schedule for ten weeks. Only with this regimen will your plant re-bloom. Place the plant in a sunny window during the day and don’t forget to feed and water. All these steps are tedious, but rewarding; you really can get your poinsettia to bloom again. And if you have children in the house, this plant and its routine are a good starting place for them, if you want them to learn about caring for living things.
If none of this work appeals to you, then toss your plant onto the compost heap after the last petals fall. And know that next year, you’ll have a number of poinsettias—and poinsettia colors and sizes–to choose from, and you can delight in filling spaces with their bright cheer.