ACES/ BY MARY LEIGH OLIVER
The striking red, white and green colors make the poinsettia a staple plant for the holiday season. With the proper care, poinsettias can thrive throughout the new year. Rudy Pacumbaba, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System urban home grounds, gardens and home pests specialist, has the tips for long-lasting poinsettias.
During the holidays, keeping a poinsettia looking bright and healthy is essential for the holiday spirit. The first step is to make sure the plant has plenty of natural light.
“Place the plant in an area with natural light, away from vents and drafts that can dry out the pot,” Pacumbaba said.
Next, make sure to only water the poinsettia when it is dry. When purchased, the plants often come covered in holiday foil or decorative wrap. Remove this covering to allow excess water to drain.
“Poinsettias are susceptible to stem and root diseases, so draining the excess water is important,” he said.
Lastly, utilize an all-purpose fertilizer (20-20-20) at one-a-month intervals.
Instead of buying a new poinsettia each year, follow these simple steps to keeping it growing until the next holiday season. If any decorative wrap is not yet removed from the pot, remove the covering. Then, place a saucer under the pot.
“The saucer allows for better air circulation for the roots during the rest of the growing season,” Pacumbaba said.
Keep a schedule to water and fertilize the plant at regular intervals. Naturally, the poinsettia will continue to grow larger. As it does, move it to a larger container with new potting mix. If the plant becomes long and leggy, cut it back to 5 to 6 inches. Periodically, cut the tips of the branches to encourage more side branching and to maintain a fuller appearance.
During the summer, move the plant outside in an area with indirect sunlight. Summer is also the time to increase fertilizer to at least twice the frequency. In mid-summer, move the plant to a location with full sunlight and trim it as needed to keep it a manageable size. After Labor Day, bring the poinsettia inside to a location with a minimum of six hours of sunlight.
“This will start preparing the plat for their flowers and their colorful foliage,” he said. “At this stage, the amount of fertilizer should also be reduced.”
Near the end of September, the plant requires 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness and 11 hours of bright light each day. The long periods of darkness are essential to the vibrant colors of the poinsettia.
“Placing the plant in a closet, basement or under a box can provide the required hours of darkness,” Pacumbaba said. “During the periods of bright light, make sure to rotate the pot to ensure the plant receives even light from all sides.”
Right before Thanksgiving, stop the dark period treatments and place the plant in a sunny area that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight. Also, reduce the amount of water and fertilizer.
Using these simple tips, keep this year’s poinsettias merry and bright until next year. For more information on poinsettia care, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.