Keeping Poinsettias

POINSETTIAEvery year when I buy a holiday poinsettia I make the same vow: this year, I'm letting it die. This may seem like an odd pledge for a gardener to make, but this is what happens. I keep my poinsettias in a bright western window, and I feel the soil daily. When it's dry, I soak it well.

With this kind of care my plant still looks great in April, so I'm faced with an annual dilemma: put it out on the patio...or in the compost?

The ironic thing is, at the nursery people are always asking me how they can make their poinsettias color again next season. They want to learn how to keep theirs, while I want to learn how to throw mine away.

Some gardeners plant their poinsettias in the garden once the temperatures are reliably above 50 degrees every night. The plants lose their color in the summertime, but they produce an abundance of foliage that is quite attractive over the summer. And like most of the annuals we plant in our gardens, the poinsettia dies in the first hard frost, no fuss no muss.

But for those of you who want to maintain this traditional holiday plant, here is what you do. Once the temperatures are reliably above freezing, repot the plant into a larger clay container and cut the stems back by half. Give it some organic or time-release fertilizer and put it outside in a sunny location.

Given this treatment and regular watering, your plant will grow new green leaves. In fact, my plants usually look so good that my resolve to let the frost take them melts away. In September I bring them back indoors.

Making the plants form new colored leaves isn't tricky...the plants need nine hours of daylight and fifteen hours of darkness. You can whisk them in and out of a closet, or cover with a box from five PM to eight AM. Actually, nine hours of daylight is about what comes through my sunniest window in the late fall, so I just keep all artificial lights off in that room.

But, poinsettias kept this way are usually... not lean and mean exactly, but definitely more slender. Plants raised by a grower are full and gorgeous, and for not much money you get abundance.

I'll admit it...I want big and beautiful, so this is my plan for next season: I'll plant my poinsettia in the garden, so that I can't easily take it back indoors. I am resolved. Next fall, I'm definitely letting it die.

By C.L. Fornari

 
 

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