Not so fast: You can throw out your poinsettia, or help it “bloom” again next year

Not so fast: You can throw out your poinsettia, or help it “bloom” again next year

I tend to look at holiday decorations as proactive things. They’re great before the big day, but once midnight hits, I’m ready to drag my Jack-O-Lantern or Christmas tree to the curb.

But this is not the case with poinsettia.

The red and white “flowering” beauty can be kept all year round. With proper care and attention, they will ‘bloom’ in time for next year’s celebrations. (I used quotes about “blooming” and “rebellious” because technically, a poinsettia does neither. Those red or white “petals” are not what they seem. They are actually bracts, which are modified colored leaves. But let’s call them ” “Flowers” here for simplicity).

Growing poinsettias as houseplants is pretty simple: provide water, sunlight and fertilizer once in a while, and they’ll be happy. Getting your poinsettia to bloom again next December? It’s another story entirely. But if you’re ready for a fun challenge, here’s how:

1. After the holidays, place the plants in a sunny location, water them as needed until the flowers wilt, then stop watering.

2. When the plants drop their leaves and go dormant, place the pots on their sides and place them in a cool, dark place, such as an unheated basement, until April. Visit them periodically and mist water lightly if their stems begin to wilt.

3. In April, prune 2 inches from the tip of each stem and return the plants to a sunny spot in your home’s living area. Poinsettias thrive best in temperatures between 70-75 degrees during the day and 60-65 degrees at night. Keep the soil moist but not saturated.

4. If you want to move the plants outside for the summer, wait until all danger of frost has passed, then move them gradually by increasing their exposure outside over the course of a few days. Otherwise, continue to care for them as houseplants. In either case, start feeding monthly with 1 teaspoon of 20-20-20 fertilizer per gallon of water.

5. Bring your holiday poinsettias indoors at the beginning of September, first checking for insects and rinsing the plants and pots with a gentle stream of water.

6. To flower, the poinsettia needs a 40-day period of complete darkness for 15 hours a day. So, starting October 1, keep the plants in a bright, sunny place from 8am to 5pm daily, then move them to a dark place, such as a closet, from 5pm to 8am. Alternatively, you can place a box over the plant during those hours. Either way, set an alarm – if you skip this step even once, the buds may not form.

7. When the bracts begin to turn reddish (or white), usually around the second week of November, begin keeping the plants in the main part of the house full-time. Continue to water and fertilize and place the poinsettia in a prominent place among your holiday decorations.

You may be exhausted, but you’ll have a great story to tell around the table.

Jessica Damiano writes regular columns on gardening for the Associated Press and publishes the award-winning weekly newsletter. You can sign up here for weekly gardening tips and tricks.

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