With a little TLC, poinsettias, whose colorful blooms disappear with the passing of the season, can burst with cheer again next year, just in time to reprise its role as essential holiday décor.
While possible, reblooming a poinsettia is not for the gardening faint of heart. Whether you replant the small shrub in a pot to keep indoors or outside as part of the landscape, these temperature- and sunlight-sensitive beauties require year-round consideration to achieve bright shades of red.
A poinsettia’s ability to thrive once replanted begins with the quality of the plant you purchase, said David Rodriguez, horticulturist with Texas A&M ArgiLife Extension in Bexar County, an agriculture and environmental stewardship education initiative.
“Some of the key things you are looking for are a very nice, very colorful plant with tight blooms in the center that are unopened so that they last longer,” Rodriguez said. “The quality point you want is called ‘floral,’ which you will more likely find at an actual florist or nursery. The price point might be a bit higher, but the quality makes the whole difference if you want to keep it through to next year.”
Care through the holidays
A poinsettia can remain lush and attractive inside the home from Thanksgiving into the new year, until it starts its normal decline come mid-January. It is best kept in a sunroom for maximum light exposure; otherwise, place your poinsettia near a window so that it receives direct light, rotating on occasion to ensure it receives a full sunbath, Rodriguez said. “You need to give it at least eight hours of intense light.”
Keep your poinsettia safe from extreme temperatures, avoiding placement near a fireplace or heating vent, and handle it with extreme care, as it bruises easily.
When watering, avoid getting the leaves wet. Instead, aim the water straight to the roots and the soil to ensure the plant will not wilt. Do not let the plant sit in water; poinsettias will die from root rot if overwatered or left sitting in excess water.
“There are a lot of different watering methods for a poinsettia, but the main thing is that you don’t want to [water too little], and you don’t want to water too much,” said Elyse Tocquigny, owner of Green Gate Garden Center in Seguin, a wholesale nursery that distributes more than 30,000 poinsettias to nurseries throughout Texas each winter, including floral-grade, perfect for replanting.
Tocquigny suggests watering the plant until the soil is completely moist, and water again when the soil becomes dry. Rodriguez, on the other hand, is a believer in the “ice cube method” ice cubes placed on top of the soil at the beginning of each day to maintain consistent moisture. Rodriguez recommends six cubes for a poinsettia so as to not overwater.
Replanting your poinsettia
When January comes to an end, it’s time to prep your poinsettia for replanting – either in a larger pot or the great outdoors, where it is capable of growing 10 feet or more as it reverts to its native growth pattern.
First, cut the plant stems down to 6 inches, Rodriguez said. Upgrade the plant to a larger container filled with “really good premium potting mix” and container fertilizer, and place it so that it has little interaction with natural or artificial light. When the temperatures get warmer at the end of March or early April, slowly move your plant back into the sunlight, he said.
When August rolls around and days become shorter, the poinsettia will need at least eight hours of intense direct sunlight to help the plant begin to develop its deep red hues.
“You can use the old saying, ‘9 to 5 plenty of light and the rest of the time in the closet,’” Rodriguez said, noting that poinsettias are short-day plants that bloom only after receiving about 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness each day. This triggers the flowering response, which in turn leads to the formation of the colorful bracts.
Similar rules apply for poinsettias that will be planted outdoors as a naturalized landscape plant. “Follow the same guidelines, and on April 1 find an area outdoors facing south, away from the cold north winds, and in an area that receives a minimum of six hours of sunlight,” Rodriguez said. The hole will need to be 2 feet across and 2 feet deep, and the area will need to stay well-mulched and fertilized, in addition to being protected from temperatures below 50 degrees.
“I have seen landscapes where the poinsettias grew up to 12 feet easily due to very mild winters,” Rodriguez said. “The leaves usually get much larger, typically about twice the size, and they usually just bloom red on the tips.”
To compost or not to compost
More often than not, poinsettias are treated as throwaway plants – tossed into the garbage, or a compost heap if they are lucky enough to return to their natural environment, and never thought of until the annual holiday creep-up.
Local nurseries begin placing orders for varieties of poinsettias beginning in July, months before any color development even begins.
Shades of Green Nursery on San Antonio’s North Side receives biweekly deliveries of all variations of poinsettias, many of which come from Green Gate Garden Center in Seguin.
Shades of Green gardener David Honhorst told the Rivard Report the nursery sells more than 3,000 poinsettias a season and often operates with a waiting list as the plants quickly make their way out of the greenhouse and into their temporary or permanent home.
“We don’t often have people ask about the life cycle of this plant because they don’t intend to keep it,” Honhorst said. “It’s one of those things that only people who really like plants will experiment and try to do.”
In some ways, this is good news for local nurseries throughout Texas that use the popularity of poinsettias to get their business through the winter. “It’s not a crop that really breaks the bank and makes a lot of money, but it keeps the nursery busy and is a crop that we can use to hold us over until spring starts,” Tocquigny said.
Green Gate Garden Center does not plant its poinsettias from seed; rather, its gardeners receive cuttings of the plant in its different varieties and tend them until they become robust in color. “It’s not a piece of cake,” Tocquigny said, noting each variety needs personalized attention. “Most of them [bought and kept in the home] are dead by Christmas because they are not taken care of.”
Rodriguez co-hosts WOAI Radio’s Lawn and Garden Show, a weekly live show Saturdays from 7-10 a.m., where gardening enthusiasts call to ask questions about finicky indoor and outdoor plants. He said even when a plant does not survive despite the owner’s best attempt, the attempt itself teaches people to appreciate the efforts of the nurseries and production facilities that churn out thousands of beautiful plants year-round.
“It is very hard to get poinsettias to bloom how you want and when you want,” Rodriguez said. “Try to keep your poinsettia alive. It will give you a greater appreciation for what it takes to have this plant ready and timed perfectly for the holidays from one year to the next.”