Ubiquitous during the holiday season, many of us find ourselves with poinsettias without ever buying one. With proper care, they can provide your home or office with vibrant winter foliage for several weeks. And although we may consider poinsettias to be "Christmas plants," they can actually be grown perennially, if you're up for the challenge. (Just check out how cool the ones in the photo from the Flower Council of Holland look above!) No matter how long you decide to keep them, here's how to keep them looking great.
Poinsettias were brought to the United States from Mexico by an statesman and amateur botanist, for whom the plants are named, in 1825. They are tropical plants and can grow to be up to 10 feet tall. Poinsettias come in a variety of colors, ranging from the familiar red to pink, pale yellow, and multicolored. Their "flowers" aren't flowers at all, but rather are leaf bracts, which frame the actual flower, the small yellow cluster in the center. See more about the history of poinsettias here.
Choosing a Poinsettia Plant
According to a HGTV, when selecting a poinsettia, look for one with strong stems and no signs of breakage or wilting. The colored parts of the poinsettia, the bracts, should be in full color without any green edges. The true flowers (the small cluster in the center of the bracts) should be tight and yellow with very little pollen.
How to Care For Your Poinsettia
Poinsettias love bright, filtered sunlight, such as that provided by a south-facing window. Poinsettias thrive in a semi-cool, somewhat humid environment. Sixty-eight degrees during the day and cooler at night will keep them blooming longest, and having other plants near them is a good way to keep humidity levels ideal.
Water poinsettias regularly but take care not to over water; let the soil dry out between waterings. Never let them sit in water or in saucers of water.
Do not fertilize plants while they are in bloom.
How to Keep Poinsettias so They Bloom Next Year
Once flower bracts have fallen, move your poinsettia to a cool, dark location until spring. Continue watering but let the plant dry out between waterings.
In spring, return the poinsettia to a bright, sunny location and cut the plant to about 6 inches from the pot's rim. Re-potting will also give your plant an added boost. As new growth emerges, pinch back tips about once a month to encourage branching. Apply fertilizer every couple of weeks with a complete houseplant fertilizer.
When fall arrives, it's time to pay close attention to the light your poinsettia receives. While sunlight is good for the plant during the day, your poinsettia now needs total darkness for 12 hours a night. You can put a box over it or move it to a dark location.
Once blooming occurs, remember to resume regular watering and provide a filtered-light, humid-enough location once again.
Troubleshooting Poinsettia Problems
Leaf drop is usually caused by conditions that are too dry or too warm. Another possibility is that the plant is stressed, such as by a draft. Make sure to keep your plant far enough away from heater vents. Wilting may be caused by over-watering. For more detailed troubleshooting, check out The Causes and Cures for Poinsettia Leaf Problems.
Toxicity & Pets
According to the ASPCA, this plant's sap is an irritant for cats and can cause vomiting, but they are "generally over-rated in toxicity."