Poinsettia Care and Growing Guide
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Poinsettias also are known as Euphorbia pulcherrima are the quintessential Christmas plant prized for the vibrant red flowers juxtaposed by hunter green leaves. Most people keep them around the holidays and then dispose of them once the colour fades but you can actually grow them indoors or outdoors and keep up the beauty all year round and with a little care and attention you can even get those stunning red leaves back or whatever colour they were when you purchased it.
Don’t get caught out bring it home by exposing it to the cold
These plants need bright light, but filtered light, not strong and direct sun. They also need temperatures between 13 and 15 degrees C which is around 55-59°F. That said, if you are purchasing in the cold weather from a nursery, wrap the plant in plastic or paper bags before bringing it home, as exposure to outdoor cold can damage the foliage even in as short a time as you transport it home. This is even more essential when purchasing one from a supermarket such at Christmas as they usually know nothing about plants and they may have already been exposed to the cold and when this has happened there is usually nothing you can do. With this, in mind, we would recommend buying one from a reputable garden centre or nursery. Once home, you can plant in a container indoors and place it somewhere the temperature and sun exposure is ideal which means filtered light and a constant warm temperature.
Improving the colour again
Turning poinsettias from green to red again
Sometimes the colour is a disappointment the second year, but there are ways you can help restore the colour again for Christmas.
Start by pruning the plant hard in April. Prune it to 10-20cm. Then keep it stored somewhere with temperatures of around 13 degrees C (59°F).
At the beginning of May, repot the plant if needed and place it somewhere cool and light for the summer with temperatures around 15 or 18 degrees C. Most central heated living rooms are about the right temperature and the next step is the most important step.
Starting in November, place the plant somewhere dark after exposing it to 12 hours of daylight, and avoid any artificial light, for most people this will mean moving it to a dark room you don’t use later in the day or placing a cardboard box over it to block out the light. This will help the colour that is instigated by the shorter day length of winter in December and January. The plant will need regular temperatures of 18 degrees C, so do not place it anywhere that it might get too cold.
Feeding and watering
Overwatering can cause damage to the plant so it is best only to water when you notice the surface has dried out. Humidity helps to extend flower times so you can regularly mist the flowers when in bloom but try to avoid the leaves as this can cause leaf spot.
In terms of food, a high potassium, low nitrogen fertiliser can be applied monthly during the summer until flowering.
Propagation by cuttings
Poinsettias can be propagated by softwood cuttings. If you are going to propagate with cuttings you need to wear gloves because the milky sap is an irritant and the plant itself is somewhat toxic if ingested although it’s not as toxic as most other euphorbias you usually have in your garden.
You should take the cuttings in the month of May. When you do so use a pair of sterile, sharp cutting shears to clip pliable softwood cuttings no longer than 20cm in length.
With cuttings in hand, prepare potting mixture either in small containers or propagation trays. Stick the end of the cutting in the container and cover with plastic (either a lid, bag, or cup) so that you create a small greenhouse of sorts. Keep the soil misted, so that it is moist but not overly wet or this will harbour mould. Once the root system establishes itself you can either grow on in the pot or transplant into there own pots if you grew them in pots.
Pests and diseases
Poinsettias, when overwatered, can suffer from grey mould so only water once the soil is dry to avoid this. If you start to notice mould spots on your plants then reduce the amount you are watering.
There are common pests that attack poinsettias especially when grown indoors including scale insects and mealybugs what you can control with by using a pesticide sold specially for house plants.