Overwintering Poinsettias - Wait! Don't Throw It Away.

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Have you ever struggled with the idea of tossing those holiday poinsettias? They may not look so lush and robust when February rolls around. However, overwintering poinsettias is a real possibility - with some care.

Overwintering Poinsettias

After the close of the 2014 holiday season, when the last of our decorations had been stashed in the garage and the dried up wreath tossed into the yard waste bin, the only token of Christmas which remained was our poinsettia.  And it was thriving. Why throw it out just yet?

February rolled around, and even though the poinsettia's red bracts began to fade and drop, it still continued to be in good health. Hmm, I thought, maybe, just maybe, we could keep it going until next Christmas. If we take good care of our poinsettia, won't the red bracts just magically reappear right after Thanksgiving?

So I did some research. With some care, not much at first, overwintering poinsettias to the next Christmas is doable.

If you've been keeping your poinsettia in a location with filtered sunlight away from drafts and direct heat, and if it looks healthy, then leave it be. Water thoroughly, allowing the poinsettia to dry out between soakings. Don't let it sit in water.

March - August

When March arrives, prune to about four inches and water sparingly. Poinsettias need a dormant phase, and it's perfectly natural to even lose some leaves. Keep it cool, between 10° C-15° C (50° F-60° F). In temperate areas, poinsettias can be moved outdoors to a porch, but do make sure to provide enough light.

I moved ours to the front porch where it received morning sun and left it there until time to bring indoors again. Once the spring rains end in our area of California, there's no such thing as a cloudy day, and temperatures can reach to above 100°F. Our poinsettia seemed to appreciate the afternoon shade.

In June, repot and fertilize with a nitrogen based formula. I would check with a local nursery in regards to what kind of fertilizer to use, but the idea is to encourage growth and not blooms.

Keep it well watered and drained, pruning one last time in July, but how much to trim depends on whether you want a short bushy plant or a larger plant. I think that I trimmed ours too much. It's not going to grow much once brought back inside, so don't over do it.

Our friend, Poinsettia

Now the fun begins. And this is also when "the poinsettia" became known in our household as Poinsettia. Yes, I personified a plant.

Around mid-September, bring Poinsettia indoors. Keep her in a sunny location for eleven hours during the day. But at night, she will need thirteen hours of total darkness. Even a slit of light from underneath a closet door or light from a street lamp outside will hinder the reddening process. I made some space for her in a kitchen cupboard, which was seldom used, making sure no one opened the door in the evenings.

After two months, Poinsettia can remain in a sunny location inside the house. There's no need to keep her in total darkness in the evenings. Continue with the same watering routine, but don't over water. If all goes well, her bracts will turn red within the few weeks before Christmas.

So, I know you're anticipating the results of our overwintering poinsettias experiment. Well, it didn't go so well in terms of the bracts turning red. But we do have a relatively healthy green plant.

The results

Bless my heart. I tried, but I would forget to wake Poinsettia up some days until after lunch, or I wouldn't put her to bed until almost midnight.

In many ways, Poinsettia is a reflection of the chaotic nature of our home life, which is rich with intent and love but doesn't necessarily stick to a schedule.

Photograph of our overwintering poinsettias experiment - image of healthy poinsettia plant that didn't turn red, image by Geoff Routh.
Photograph of our overwintering poinsettias experiment - image of healthy poinsettia plant that didn't turn red, image by Geoff Routh.

Shortly before my older children arrived to spend Christmas with us, I gave up trying to force Poinsettia to change color. My mom bought a new, red poinsettia at the store for a buck. Now Poinsettia has a sister, and I have no idea what I'm going to do with either one of them.

So here's my proposition. Most of you will have enough sense to toss out your poinsettia and buy a fresh one next year, but to those of you who have a soft spot for Poinsettia of Christmas 2015, I challenge you to keep her. Let's see if you can bring out her richest, most vibrant colors and share the results with me this upcoming December.

Just a closing note: the instructions for overwintering poinsettias throughout the year varied a good bit from site to site. This was my best effort to summarize the process, using information from only two of those websites. I suggest that you do your own research based on your particular geographical location.

Until next week,

Laura

Last updated September 3, 2016

Sources:

"How to Keep Poinsettias Growing to Next Christmas". wikihow.com. Web. January 13, 2016.

Don, Monty. "Want to keep your Christmas poinsettia looking bushy and beautiful well into the new year? Monty Don knows just how to do   it." MailOnline. December 27, 2013, updated December 29, 2013. dailymail.co.uk. Web. January 13, 2016.