Poinsettias

Utah State University Extension provides informal education outreach to residents throughout the state. This question-and-answer column is designed to give you research-based information whether your gardening interest is producing fresh food, creating a landscape area or anything in between.

Question: I’ve bought a pretty poinsettia plant every year and thrown it away after the holidays, but this time I’d like to try keeping it for longer. What should I do to have a healthy plant for several months?

Answer: Most people prefer to use their poinsettias as temporary, disposable holiday decorations, but with good care, they can be enjoyed indoors for months. Some people even like the challenge of keeping their poinsettias until the following autumn and then, providing the right conditions, to trigger flowering and color change in time for the holidays again.

There are a few things you’ll need to do to make sure you can enjoy a beautiful poinsettia for the holidays and for months afterwards.

Purchase a fresh, healthy poinsettia with young flower buds that haven’t opened. The flower buds are the little green and yellow structures in the center of colored bracts leaves. Poinsettias with open, mature flowers won’t keep their good looks for as long. Protect your poinsettia from freezing weather while you take it home.

If your poinsettia has a tall plastic sleeve pulled over it, remove it as soon as you get it home and place it in the brightest location that will meet your holiday decorating needs. If you need your poinsettias in a place that won’t provide the best conditions, you can simply move your plants to where they are needed for special events, but keep them in a more ideal location at other times. This place should be away from the cold draft of doors and windows and in a place where it won’t be in the warm, dry airflow from furnace vents.

Water properly. Poinsettias don’t like to dry down completely, but they also won’t tolerate overwatering. Thorough, less frequent watering is better than adding a little water to the pot every day or two. When the plant feels a little lightweight and the upper inch or so of the soil is dry, it’s time to water. Water thoroughly so some water comes out the bottom of the pot.

It’s best to remove the pot from its decorative cover when you water so that there is no standing water in the pot cover. If that isn’t practical, you’ll need to remove any standing water from the pot cover. Poinsettias are susceptible to root rot, and standing water contributes to this problem.

You won’t need to fertilize your poinsettia if you’re only going to keep it for a few weeks during the holidays, but if you want to keep if for longer, you’ll need to provide light fertilizer applications occasionally or apply a slow-release fertilizer that includes micronutrients.

If you want to keep a poinsettia throughout the year, give it the good care it needs indoors, and then relocate it outdoors once the overnight low temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees. Place your plant in a bright location.

In our hot, dry summer climate, an entire day in the full sun is usually too much for a poinsettia. Several hours of morning sun or bright dappled shade throughout the day is ideal. If you have to put your plant in sunnier location, you’ll probably need to provide a few hours of early afternoon shade.

Don’t forget to water regularly and check frequently for pests like aphids and mites. Insecticidal soap can provide good control for these pests if you catch the problem early. Apply the spray in the evening, so it will be completely dry by morning. You’ll also need to continue providing fertilizer on a regular basis. If you used a slow-release fertilizer with micronutrients during the winter, you’ll probably need to provide a new application for the summer.

There’s quite a bit involved with getting a poinsettia to color up again for the next winter. Take good care of your poinsettia for now and watch this column early next year for pointers on how to make that happen.

Have a gardening question? Contact USU Extension at gardenhelpdesk@usu.edu.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!