CERTIFIED TEXAS EXPERT GARDENER — Make Christmas flower Poinsettia part of your plan

Published 12:02 am Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Gardeners, our brisk mornings are indicative another year is rapidly ending.

Thanksgiving is now a fond memory shared between family and friends.

Christmas’ arrival is near, and there is much planning necessary as we make our homes ready to celebrate the holiday. For many of us (me included) the search has begun to find the ‘perfect’ gifts, host an event for friends and family, or simply create a welcoming environment for hosting guests.

This is an opportunity to include plants, in particular, poinsettias! As is typical for many of us, I’ve purchased numerous large and small poinsettias during “Black Friday” events at local garden centers.

Poinsettias make dramatic focal points as holiday decorations when strategically placed throughout your home. Some gardeners believe the colorful leaves (bracts which are modified leaves) are the plants flowers.

The actual poinsettia flowers are the bright, yellow nodules in the center of the leaf bracts called cyathia.

Poinsettia Care

Poinsettias need bright, indirect light, requiring at least six hours of bright light daily is recommended but not direct sunlight, since they easily “sun burn.” Provide plants with bright diffused light near a window through sheer curtains.

They prefer cooler daytime temperatures and easily adapt to typical household environments. If the temperature is too high, the plants will respond by becoming tall (leggy) in appearance. Avoid ‘cold’ drafts near entryways, and do not place them near heat sources, as they will drop leaves quickly!

They enjoy and prefer soil which is slightly moist but not wet. Well-drained soil is a requirement for them, or they will suffer from root rot if water is allowed to stand at the plant’s base.

Learn from this gardeners’ past mistakes and know it is best to remove the decorative foil cover encasing the plants plastic pot before watering the plant. Otherwise, water will not drain from the soil, almost guaranteeing the plant’s demise, as most likely it will succumb to root rot.

Once the water has completely drained away, then return the decorative foil cover to encase the pot. Soil which is dry to the touch an inch from the top of the soil surface indicates time to water, as does “drooping” bracts and leaves.

The beautiful red, pink, white or variegated bracts of the poinsettia are what “appear” to be the plants’ flower. They are in fact leaves and can remain beautiful for weeks at a time or even reappear each year if the plant receives the appropriate level of care.

Once the bracts lose their color (which is normal during spring), cut the plant back to approximately seven to nine inches in height. Once new growth begins to appear (usually within a month), begin fertilizing monthly using a diluted mixture of commercial fertilizer (at half strength).

Continue pruning the plant throughout the summer to ensure the plant remains compact, but do not prune after Aug. 31. Continue to keep the plant watered, providing indirect light year-round. Poinsettia bracts color changes (recolor) as our autumn nights become longer.

Place the plant where it can enjoy these longer nights. A critical step is remembering that too much light exposure during this time will inhibit the plant’s tendency of colorful bracts to form and will remain green.

Repot the poinsettia into good quality potting soil yearly, and this is best done after pruning, but before new growth appears in spring.

Holiday Care

  • Poinsettias require bright, indirect light.
  • Water when the soil is dry to the touch (an inch below soil surface).
  • Keep away from drafts (hot or cold).
  • Fertilize once color begins to fade (at half recommended strength).
  • Protect from temperatures below 50°F.

Extended Care (Early Fall)

  • Place plants in a sunny location (bright, diffused light) indoors & keep soil barely moist.
  • Trim to 7-9” tall (Spring), repot, & keep watered and fertilized (diluted).
  • Place outside for the morning sun, continue fertilizing monthly.
  • Pinch back tips of the Poinsettia by one quarter to foster branching.
  • Bring indoors when night temperatures fall below 50°F.

Forcing Bracts to Color

  • Ensure the poinsettia receives no light between (4PM to 8AM) requiring total darkness.
  • Allow the plant to receive only 8 hours of sunlight daily.
  • Once bracts begin to color, discontinue long nights and fertilizer.
  • Poinsettias can be relocated to their holiday positions.

Fun Fact: Did you know poinsettias are native Mexico? The area known as “Taxco del Alacron.” The plants were used by Aztecs to create purple dye and the plants milky sap was used to create medicine to treat fever.

So long for now fellow gardeners. Let’s go out and grow ourselves a greener, more sustainable world, one plant at a time.

Send Certified Texas Expert Gardener John Green your questions and please continue sending comments to jongreene57@gmail.com.