Espying the poinsettia, which grew through a crack in his greenhouse, the German biologist, Wilenow, was so impressed with its vibrant colors that he named it Euphorbia pulcherrima, meaning 'very beautiful'. For centuries, the poinsettia has enhanced holiday décor with an elegant splash of Christmas red and hybrid colors that include a varied assortment of pinks, creams, and most lately, lime green.
The poinsettia is the most often purchased of any houseplant... and probably the most discarded after the holidays are over. Yet, you needn't throw out your poinsettia with the post-Holiday trash! With some diligent care, this year's Christmas poinsettia can save you the price of next year's as it rebirths into 'very beautiful' holiday bloom again!
A perennial flowering shrub, the poinsettia is native to Mexico, South America, and Africa. Left to grow wild, the poinsettia can reach heights of ten feet. However, what we often call 'flowers' are actually the modified leaves, or bracts, that surround the tiny, globular blooms of the poinsettia.
The poinsettia is quite particular about its environment and is intolerant of both warm and cold drafts. Ideally, it prefers daytime temperatures from 60° to 70°F and night times from 55° to 60°. Temperatures set too high will shorten its life, but as a rule of thumb, if you are comfortable, your poinsettia will be as well.
Your poinsettia needs a minimum of six hours of bright, filtered light each day and while it welcomes moisture, adequate drainage is essential. Be sure to poke holes in foil wrapped plants. Set your poinsettia on a saucer and check the soil daily. Water thoroughly when it's dry to your touch and discard any accumulation of drained water.
Prune your poinsettia in late winter or early spring, cutting each stem back to six to eight inches in height. Repot your plant in the next size pot (2 to 3 inches larger in diameter). A soil mix that is rich in organic matter, such as peat moss or leaf mold, provides ongoing nutrition for your poinsettia.
Let your poinsettia enjoy the spring sunshine from a sunny window. Once danger of frost is past and nighttime temperatures are consistently above 55°F, acclimate your poinsettia to the outdoors by placing it in a shady area of your garden for the first couple of weeks. Then move it to a spot that receives lots of sunshine, but is protected from strong winds. Bring your poinsettia back indoors again before autumn nighttime temperatures dip below 55°F.
The poinsettia is a 'photoperiodic' plant. Although it grows green foliage year round, in order to set flowers and transform surrounding leaves into colorful bracts, the poinsettia needs extended periods of darkness. Even short periods of nighttime light, such as interference from street lamps or auto headlights, discourage bloom.
Poinsettia flowers begin forming in late September or early October. If you want rich poinsettia color for the holidays, for six to eight weeks before the holidays, you must provide total darkness for your poinsettia for 14 to 16 hours daily. Most experts suggest that you closet your poinsettia overnight from 5pm to 8am, beginning October 1 and continuing through December 15. If you're short on closet space, complete cover your plant with a cardboard box, a heavy paper bag or an opaque piece of fabric.
During the day, allow your poinsettia to enjoy the same six hours of bright, indirect sunlight as usual.
Although you may notice the beginnings of color towards the end of the short-day, long-night span, your Poinsettia will present you with its most vibrant colors if you don't try to hurry Christmas!