The Poinsettia Project

How to keep your poinsettia looking beautiful next season.

Christmas is over, but before you toss that poinsettia, did you know it can grace your home for more than one Christmas season?

Being that one of my is to , I am determined to invest the considerable commitment of time, effort and patience required to re-use my gorgeous poinsettia next year. 

I have always intended to attempt this, but was intimidated by what seemed like the overly strict precision and timing necessary for success.  The financial benefits just never seemed to justify the effort involved (although the "green" ones do!).  Not that I don't enjoy these types of projects, I just know my track record with consistency over time, which is what a successful outcome requires.

This is the procedure: In early spring, cut plants to about 6 inches. Place next to a sunny window and water as needed.   In mid-spring, repot into a slightly larger container and fertilize. 

When all threat of frost is past (in our area, usually around May 20), place the pot outside in an area that gets plenty of sun, but some afternoon shade (southeast is ideal).  Water as needed and pinch off all new shoots about 1-2 inches from the top every 3-4 weeks until the first week in August.  This consistent clipping will result in a fuller, more attractive looking plant.  As cooler fall temperatures become consistent, return the plant to the sunny location it inhabited in the spring.

Now, the real precision and commitment starts.   In early October, in order to coax the plant to flower, it will need to be in complete darkness for 14 hours a day.  During the daytime, it needs to be in its sunny spot.  It also should get slightly less water during this period (about 10 weeks).  When it starts to show its typical in-bloom colors, leave in its intended place of honor and begin watering as usual.  Fertilize sparingly and watch it progress to "show off" status.    

I have carefully pondered all of the obstacles that could lead to my unintentional sabotage of the project by forgetting to follow any of the steps. I have come up with some proactive solutions to circumvent this possibility.  For one, when I place the plant outside, I will put it just outside the front door as it is the correct direction and, more importantly,  I will pass it every day.  This will make it much more likely that I will care for it as required as it will fit in naturally as part of my routine. 

When it is time for the 10-week pre-Christmas stretch, I will place it in the pantry after clearing the dinner plates (again, to connect the action to a routine).  For us, that is about 6 p.m.  Then, when I start the coffee in the morning, I will return it to the sunny spot.  The times and habits all correspond with the plants needs.  I will keep you posted next December.

Botanical notes about the Poinsettia:

The Poinsettia is a native plant of Mexico.  It was brought to the United States by a U.S Ambassador named Joel Poinsett in 1828 (hence, its common name). Its botanical name is:  Euphorbia pulcherrima.  The flower of the Poinsettia is not, in fact, the spectacular, colorful "petals", but the little gold clusters in the very center of the stem.  Those striking "petals" that we always associate with this famous holiday flower are actually leaves, just like the green ones below it.  However, they are a particular form of leaves called "bracts" to distinguish them from common leaves.  Also, it is commonly thought that the plant is poisonous to pets and small children.  This has been declared to be disproved by numerous, repeated scientific studies by Ohio State University and is now considered to be a wives tale.


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