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Anne K Moore

Poinsettias are the most finicky of plants when it comes to saving them and getting those beautiful colors to return.  Most gardeners who have tried to keep them from year to year end up buying new and composting them after the holidays.  These held-over plants just never perform like the greenhouse professionally grown plants. 

Many gardeners, me included, believe they will have better luck.  They will want to try for a repeat show at least once in their lifetime, so here's how:

September is not too early to get your Christmas plants ready to flower.  Poinsettias outdoors should move indoors before the first frost.  Bringing them in before turning the heat on helps the plants acclimate more quickly to the drier enclosed air.

Keep the poinsettia away from heat vents, leaky windows, and outside doorways.  Heavy air movement, from leaks, heat vents, or doors opening and closing can dry out the leaves and soil.  Leaves will drop every time the plant dries out. 

Leaves will also drop if the plant is kept too wet.  Try for middle moist ground.  Damp soil all of the time, but not wet, will keep a poinsettia happy.  Small plants growing in small pots usually need watering once a day indoors in the dry heat.  Large pots might survive on water every other day.

Poinsettia flowers are trivial little yellow affairs.  They cluster in the middle of colorful bracts, what we often think of as the flower petals.  In reality, these petals are colorful leaf-like structures that surround the tiny flowers.  The true poinsettia flower is an insignificant yellow affair right in the middle of each cloud of color.

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) has been, and still is, listed as a poisonous plant in many places.  An Ohio State University study proved otherwise some years ago and numerous other studies have confirmed their non-poisonous nature.  Poinsettias are actually quite safe, as safe as any houseplant might be.  As with all plants, you will want to discourage children, pets, and weird adults from eating any part of it as it can cause stomach upset.  The milky sap that oozes from injuries to the branches can also cause skin irritation.  

Some of us gardeners are more obsessive than others.  If you want to get your poinsettia to re-bloom, you do have to be fanatical about putting it to bed every night.  It won't complain, as teenagers do.  Just cover it with a dark cloth or move it into a closet at 5:00 p.m.  Temperature is also important.  For its deep sleep, the temperature should be around 50 degrees F.

Wake it up every morning at 7:45 a.m. and move it into indirect light in a room with temperatures in the 65-70 degree F. range.  Let it bask in this twilight all day.  A Poinsettia requires at least nine hours of light every day to set its tiny buds and colorful bracts.  If it gets more than fourteen hours, it will remain a green plant and won't perform its colorful show.

The poinsettia I saved last January was a miniature that stayed fresh looking the whole season.  The large beauties suffered all of the holiday indignities of indoor heat and dryness.  They went on the compost pile last February.  The little one just looked too precious so I moved it outdoors in part shade after the last frost.

Since its repositioning indoors a week ago, it is already suffering relocation shock.  I am not as obsessive as I should be.  I sometimes forget the daily water.  It has dropped leaves from the stress of drying out.  It suffers along with me in a 73-degree room day and night.  I do not shuffle my plant off to bed or have it suffer the indignity of a bag over its head at nightfall.  It stays in an unused room with natural light.  If you want success, you should do as I say, not as I do.   

Since there are so many beautiful colors and forms every year, I prefer to treat my poinsettia plants as annuals and discard them when they finish their display and/or drop all of their leaves.  That is, until a precocious one comes along, like this little guy, to charm me into trying a rescue just one more time.

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By Biltmore
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