Christmas Poinsettia: It doesn’t have to be a one month wonder

The vibrant red poinsettia plant is a perfect addition to every family home at Christmas, complementing your seasonal decorations. But this beautiful plant does not have to be a one month wonder just for Christmas. You do not have to watch it wilt and die!

Emma O’Neill, Head Gardener at national horticultural charity, Garden Organic, shares her top tips on how to care for the plant so that it flowers again next Christmas.

Emma says: “Too many things are thrown away after Christmas. Don’t let your poinsettia be one of them. If you truly want to help the world become more sustainable and follow organic principles ensure your plant thrives and flowers again next Christmas.

“If you look after your plant you will find that it may grow even bigger next year as commercially grown poinsettias are often treated with growth depressant or dwarfing chemicals to obtain a compact plant. But plants grown on for a second year, in fresh compost, will revert to their taller, natural habitat”. The first steps are to look after your plant when it first arrives.

The poinsettia needs three important things to thrive:
Light – keep it in a well-lit location such as a sunny warm windowsill.
Warmth – ideally these plants thrive at around 18°C, and not below 13°C.
Water – water well but only when the compost is completely dry. Overwatering is the most common failure in poinsettia.

Emma says: “Once the poinsettia has had this great start to life you can make it bloom again next year by following the steps below”:

  1. From January onwards, maintain the light, warmth and watering.
  2. In March/April, cut back the stems to 10cm (4in). Let the compost stay almost dry and place the plant in a cool shady position.
  3. In early May, water and re-pot the plant in fresh compost. Shoots will then soon appear.
  4. Remove some of the new shoots, leaving just 4-5 stems. (You can use these prunings as softwood cuttings).
  5. To ensure the plant flowers at Christmas, you need to control the plant’s access to light in the autumn (flowering is triggered by short winter day-length). So in early September cover the plant with a black polythene bag from early evening until the next morning. This means the plant is in total darkness for 14 hours.
  6. You should keep the plant warm, at a constant temperature of around 18°C (55°F).
  7. By early November you can stop manipulating the light source, and flowers should start developing for Christmas. They love humidity so make sure you keep up that constant heat and mist them down with water regularly.

Emma’s final tips are: “When pruning, wear gloves and long sleeves as the sap can cause irritation and remember that you can take cuttings from your plant and pass on the festive cheer to others next Christmas”.

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www.gardenorganic.org.uk

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About the Author

Tony Flanagan

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