Tahlequah Daily Press

December 13, 2013

Caring for poinsettias


TAHLEQUAH — Poinsettias are one of the hallmarks of the Christmas season, and with appropriate care can be kept year ‘round.

The poinsettia is a tropical plant, with origins in Central America and tropical Mexico, where they are known to grow, unbranched, as tall as 10 feet.

The plants were revered by the Aztecs and a symbol of purity and Joel Robert Poinsette, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico introduced them here in 1825.

Tips for maintaining poinsettias include:

• Keep them in a sunny place for at least six hours each day, away from cold windows. A chill will cause the plant to drop its colorful leaves.

• Keep the soil moist and water the plant when the surface of the soil feels dry.

• After blooming is over, fertilizer will help keep the poinsettia healthy and promote new growth throughout the year.

• Poinsettias will hibernate beginning in April. To help the process, gradually decrease water, allowing the soil to get dry between watering, but be careful the stem does not begin to wither. After a couple of weeks, the plant will have got use to this drying process, and can be moved to a coldish place – around 60 degrees. Water it very little, never soaking or allowing it to sit in water.

• Around mid-May, cut all stems back to finger length (about 4 inches). Now is also a good time to repot the plant in a larger container. Water it well to wake it up and bring it back to the sunniest spot in your home. Keep the plant at an average of 75 degrees throughout the summer and into September. Water on a regular schedule and regeneration of stalks will begin soon. This is also a good time to fertilize. Use fertilizer a couple of times per month - a regular houseplant fertilizer at half strength is a good mix.

• Plants can generally be moved outdoors in June for sunshine and warmth. Keep it partially shaded and never in direct sunlight. Water regularly and give a little extra fertilizer once near the end of June.

• Right after July 4, cut back each stem the length of your thumb tip. If left uncut, the plant will grow leggy and lanky.

• By mid-August, each branch should have new growth. Once again, pinch or cut them back to a small handful of leaves on each shoot and bring the plant back inside. Water regularly and add the fertilizer mix once per month.

• In October, to get the plant to re-bloom, they must be limited to 12 hours or less sunlight per day. Between Oct. 1 and the end of November, keep the plant in complete darkness from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. This will delay blooming. During the day, place it back in a sunny window and continue to water and fertilize.

• The last week in November, poinsettias can be kept in the window full time.

• Stop fertilizing after mid-December. Continue to water the plant and enjoy it as it continues to bloom throughout the season.