In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
December, 2001
Regional Report

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Here's how NOT to force a poinsettia into bloom for the holidays!

Poinsettia Pointers

Now you have a beautiful poinsettia, can you try and keep for next year? Yes, it can be done if you pay special attention to its needs throughout the year. And, please do as I say, not as I did. I tried it last year, somewhat half-heartedly, and ended up with a spindly, pale imitation of a poinsettia. Here's how it really should be done!

Post-holiday Care

As soon as the holidays are over, put the plant in a bright location such as a south window. The water requirements will increase when it's in a sunny spot, so remember to keep the potting soil evenly moist.

The tiny yellow flowers in the center will mature and fall off. The brightly colored or white bracts may begin to yellow and drop off as well although some of the newer hybrid poinsettias will keep their colored bracts for months.

Fertilize at one-quarter strength once a month, and don't be dismayed if the plant really begins to look bad. Remember that you are only trying to keep it alive until you can prune it and put it outdoors in spring. Do keep a watch out for insect problems, though.

Next Spring

In early April, toughen it for the move outdoors by watering less and withholding fertilizer. Repot it by putting it into an inch larger pot, using sterile potting soil.

Prune it back fairly severely, removing all remaining bracts and new leaf shoots. Leave two to three mature leaves on each stem if possible. This will remove weaker growth that won't bloom, and will stimulate new tougher growth.

When the weather has warmed and all danger of frost has passed, begin to acclimate the plant by moving it outdoors gradually. Finally move it to a bright spot out of direct afternoon summer sun. Fertilize with liquid houseplant food once a week and be sure to watch moisture levels carefully. It may need daily watering.

Through the summer, until early September, pinch out the new tips. Leave two or three newly matured leaves on each stem, but remove the tiny new leaves to produce a large, bushy plant.

Promoting Holiday Color

Bring the poinsettia indoors before night temperatures drop below 50 degrees and put it back in a sunny window. Now comes the hard part. Beginning October first, you must give the plant 14 hours of continuous darkness every night. You can put it in a closet or put a box over it to give it complete darkness. Even brief exposure to light during this dark time can interrupt the cycle, preventing the plant from coloring, so you must have the right conditions to keep it pitch black. Put it back in the sunny window during the other ten hours of the day.

Once the bracts begin to show color, you can stop the darkness regime. If you've followed the regime precisely, by around December 15 you should have a beautiful poinsettia to enjoy for the holidays!

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