GIMME SHELTER- Holiday blooms: How to save your poinsettias
Q: My kids always give me poinsettias for the holidays, but I cannot seem to keep them alive afterwards. What am I doing wrong?
A: Improper water and light, and excessive heat are the leading causes of failure in caring for gift plants like poinsettias. These plants are grown in greenhouses, where the nighttime temperatures are cool, light is adequate, and the air is moist. When they're brought into a dry home, where the light is poor and the temperatures are maintained for human comfort, results are frequently disappointing. Do not expect to keep a gift plant from year to year. Enjoy them while they are attractive and in season, and then discard.
The poinsettia requires bright light and should be kept away from drafts. A temperature between 65 and 70°F is ideal. Avoid temperatures below 60°F and above 75°F. Keep plants well watered, but do not overwater– let the soil dry between watering. Some of the newer, long-lasting varieties can be kept attractive all winter.
Gardeners frequently ask whether they can carry their poinsettias over to bloom again next year. The quality of homegrown plants seldom equals that of commercially grown plants. However, if you want to try, the following procedure can be followed.
After the showy bracts fade or fall, set the plants where they will receive indirect light and temperatures around 55 to 60°F. Water sparingly during this time, enough to keep the stems from shriveling. Cut the plant back to within 5 inches of the soil surface and re-pot in fresh soil. As soon as new growth begins, place in a well-lighted window. After danger of frost, place the pot outdoors in a partially shaded spot. Pinch the new growth back to produce a plant with several stems. Do not pinch after September 1st.
About Labor Day, or as soon as the nights are cool, bring the plant indoors. Continue to grow in a sunny room with a night temperature of about 65°F. Since the poinsettia blooms only during short days, exclude artificial light, either by covering with a light-proof box each evening or placing in an unlighted room or closet for a minimum of 12 hours of darkness. Plants require full light in the daytime, so be sure to return them to a sunny window. Start the short-day treatment in mid-September to have blooms between December 1 and Christmas.
For more information or advice, contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office and speak with an Extension Agent or Master Gardener volunteer. Albemarle 872-4580, Fluvanna 591-1950, Greene 985-5236, Louisa 540-967-3422, and Nelson 263-4035.