Question: What should I do with my poinsettia after Christmas? Mine tend to live and bloom until April and then do not have the good manners to die. I don’t know what to do with them because they are not as pretty anymore and they take up a lot of room.
Answer: Poinsettias are one of those things that act as a symbol that the holiday season has arrived. They line the entrances of businesses, pack garden centers, stores, churches, schools, restaurants and many other places throughout the season.
Native to Mexico, the poinsettia was given the botanical name Euphorbia pulcherrima, which literally means "very beautiful." Its common name honors Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, who introduced the plant here.
Before we talk about what to do as the season winds down, let’s start with how to care for your poinsettia to keep it vibrant and healthy. Poinsettias are a tropical plant, so when you purchase one, make sure it is wrapped properly for transport, as even a few minutes in freezing temperatures can damage the bracts and leaves.
When you get it home, remove the wrapping carefully and place your poinsettia in indirect light. Six hours of light daily is ideal. Be sure to keep the plant from touching cold windows. These plants should be kept away from warm or cold drafts from windows and open doors. Poinsettias prefer daytime temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees and night time temperatures around 55. High temperatures will shorten the plant’s life.
Move the plant to a cooler room at night, if possible. If you leave foil wrapping around the plant for display, make sure you poke holes in the bottom so that water can drain. You do not want to let the soil get soggy. These plants should be checked daily and watered when the surface of the soil is dry. When poinsettias are allowed to wilt, they will tend to drop bracts sooner.
With proper care, your poinsettias can last for several months. Many can last well into March and even April. Gardeners are often left with the dilemma of tossing or nurturing these plants to see if they will bloom another year. The marginal cost of discarding the plant and purchasing another one next year probably should not be your deciding factor. You also want to keep in mind a few other points when making your decision: Not all poinsettias will bloom a second year. These tropical plants are not necessarily well suited to being outdoors in our area, so planting them in your landscape may not be an ideal addition. They can grow very large, and they require quite a bit of special attention throughout the year.
If you would like for it to last longer and even try your hand at getting it to bloom a second year, you will need to fertilize it. Fertilize with a houseplant fertilizer once per month after it stops blooming. Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor, at University of Vermont recommends tying your poinsettia care to holidays to help remember to give it extra care throughout the year:
• 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 range. Continue to water and fertilize. Rotate the plant daily to give all sides even light.
• Thankgiving: 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.
For more information on poinsettia care, contact your local extension office. Atlantic County residents can contact 609-625-0056. Cape May County Residents can call 609-465-5115, ext.3607.
Interested in becoming a Rutgers Certified Master Gardener? Classes in Atlantic County are forming now. Please call 609-625-0056 for more information. Cape May County residents welcome.
Do you have a gardening-related question you would like answered here? Please forward your questions to Belinda Chester, Master Gardener Program Coordinator, Rutgers Cooperative Extension Office, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. You can also submit questions at Rutgers-atlantic.org/garden or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org; please include “garden question” in the subject line.