Holiday Color for the Home & Garden
The poinsettia is a beautiful plant associated with the winter holidays. Poinsettias are often given as gifts in pots in late November and throughout December. These plants create colorful holiday decorations for any home. After the holidays are over, they can be used as landscape plants.
The distinctive, colorful part of the poinsettia is not its flower but its petal-like leaves, which are also called bracts. Different poinsettia cultivars come in many different colors and shapes. Bract color varies from red to pink, white, marble, orange, and even purple. Bract shapes can be rounded, jagged, and anything in between. Plant structure can vary as well; some cultivars are tall, while others are wide and full.
Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are non-poisonous and non-toxic. However, some people may be sensitive to the latex in poinsettia sap. Although eating even a large number of leaves will not result in illness, the plant is not considered edible. When used as an indoor plant, it should be kept out of reach of children and pets.
Until about ten years ago, poinsettia bracts dropped off the plant if it was kept indoors for more than a few days. Intensive breeding programs have produced varieties--or cultivars--that retain their foliage and bracts indoors.
Some new cultivars involve unusual color combinations or blooming time. The bracts of the Ice Punch cultivar come out red and turn white as they grow. The color pattern of Peppermint Twist's bracts varies from one plant to another, giving each plant a unique look. Advent Red--an annual that blooms as early as October--has been cultivated primarily as a landscape plant.
With proper care, your poinsettias may stay colorful for many months. Poinsettias can retain their color until March if they are not exposed to freezing temperatures.
Location. Keep your poinsettias away from drafts and chilly air. Poinsettias grow best in well-lit areas, but direct sun or hot lights can dry out the plants.
Watering. Water your poinsettia when the surface of the soil is dry to the touch. Place a saucer under the pot, and drain the saucer if water starts to collect in it. Keep the soil from getting soggy. Too much water can kill a poinsettia.
Humidity. Gently spray the plants with a mist sprayer or place them on gravel trays. Slightly humid air will help prolong the plants' color and life span.
Fertilization. Do not fertilize your indoor poinsettias until you are ready to move them outside! High levels of fertilizer will reduce the quality of the plant.
Transitioning to the Outdoors
When the weather starts to warm in spring, trim the fading bracts. Leave 4 to 6 inches of the stem on each branch. Begin using a well-balanced fertilizer, and move the plant outdoors to a somewhat shaded area.
Your poinsettias will grow best in a full-sun location, but the plant will need a week or two to adapt to the outdoor temperatures and increased light levels after spending a few months inside.
Location. Plant your poinsettia in an area that receives full sun most of the day. However, keep in mind that to put out flower buds, poinsettias require 14 hours of complete darkness each day for 6 to 8 weeks before flowering. Any interruption to this dark period can delay or prevent the plant from flowering.
Watering & Soil. Keep the soil moderately moist at all times. Poinsettias grow best in moist, well drained, fertile soils. As long as the soil is well drained, they will grow satisfactorily in a wide range of soils, including sand, muck, marl and clay. The ideal soil pH range is 5.5 to 6.5, but the plants will tolerate a range from 5.0 and 7.0.
Fertilization. Fertilize your outdoor poinsettias once a month. In central and south Florida, start fertilizing in March and continue until October. In north Florida, the plants should be fertilized between May and September.
Pruning. Prune your poinsettias in early spring after they are finished blooming, and the danger of frost has passed. Cut them back to within 12 to 18 inches (30.5 to 45.7 cm) of the ground. If the plants have been frozen below this point, cut them back to the live wood. Pruning during growing season will produce a compact plant at flowering time. After four weeks or when the new growth is 12 inches (30.5 cm) long, cut the plant back, leaving four leaves on each shoot.
Poinsettias may be used as cut flowers, but the stems must be treated right away. The milky sap must thicken inside the stems to prevent the plants from wilting.
Immediately after cutting, dunk the cut ends of the stems in almost boiling water for about one minute and then immediately place them in cool water. Keep the flowers away from the steam to prevent them from being damaged. Another method is singeing the cut ends of the stems with a flame for a few seconds and then placing the stems in cool water.
After the stems have been treated and placed in water, store the poinsettias in a cool place for at least eighteen to twenty-four hours before they are used in arrangements. Cut several more stems than you need, since some flowers will probably wilt despite being treated.
Adapted and excerpted from:
R. Black, R. Schoellhorn, Poinsettias For Florida, Indoors and Outdoors (CIR628), Environmental Horticulture Department (1/2002).