By Katie Winslow, U of M Extension
Many of you may have received or given poinsettias as gifts during the holiday season. Sadly, many people do not know how to care for poinsettias, or believe that they will not turn color again next year, and end up throwing out the plant. However, with a little tender loving care and a bit of diligence your poinsettia can change color again next year.
A professor from the University of Vermont, Dr. Leonard Perry, has come up with an easy way to remember the care schedule for poinsettias.
• New Year’s Day: Fertilize with an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer at recommended rates. Continue to provide adequate light and water for prolonged bloom for several weeks.
• Valentine’s Day: Check your plant for signs of insects such as white fly. If your plant has become long and leggy, cut back to about five inches tall.
• St. Patrick’s Day: Remove faded and dried parts of the plant. Add more soil, preferably a commercially available sterile soil mix. Keep the plant in a very bright interior location.
• Memorial Day: Trim off two to three inches of branches to promote side branching. Repot to a larger container using a sterile growing mix.
• Father’s Day: Move the plant outside for the summer; place in indirect light.
• Fourth of July: Trim the plant again. Move it into full sun. Continue to water and fertilize but increase the amount to accelerate growth.
• Labor Day: Move indoors to a spot that gets at least six hours of direct light daily, preferably more. As new growth begins, reduce the amount of fertilizer.
• Autumnal Equinox: Starting on or near Sept. 21, give the plant 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness (put the plant in a closet, basement, or under a box) and 11 hours of bright light each day. Maintain night temperatures in the low 60 degree F range. Continue to water and fertilize. Rotate the plant daily to give all sides even light.
* Thanksgiving: Discontinue the short-day/long-night treatment. Put the plant in a sunny area that gets at least six hours of direct light. Reduce water and fertilizer.
• Christmas: Enjoy your “new” poinsettia. Start the cycle all over again.
During all of this time, unless otherwise stated, the poinsettia should be cared for as a normal house plant with regular watering (when dry) and plenty of sunlight. Be sure the plant has adequate drainage. Many poinsettias come with a foil wrapper around the pot which needs to be removed.
Try not to get discouraged if your poinsettia does not change color next year. Like many holiday plants, Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus and amaryllis, the process for proper bloom time can be challenging. You can always try again next year.