Poinsettias were first introduced into the United States in the early 1800's from their native Mexico by the US Ambassador to Mexico Joel Poinsett. Today, they are the number one selling potted plant in America and, like the Christmas tree and mistletoe, are a true symbol of the Christmas season.
The colorful red parts, often mistaken for flower petals, are actually modified leaves called bracts. The actual flowers are the small yellowish-green nodules at the center of the bracts. After many years of breeding, poinsettias are available in a number of different colors and bicolors, with new colors are being developed every year.
Easy to Care For
Poinsettias are easy to care for if you meet their few simple needs.
- Keep them away from all drafts, both hot and cold. Do not place near doors or heat vents.
- Do not allow the soil to dry out. Poinsettias should be kept evenly moist at all times.
- Provide bright, indirect light either by placing them in a north or east window or in a bright room.
For those interested in keeping the poinsettia after the holiday season with the idea of causing it to develop its bright colors again the following season, here is how it's done.
- In February or March, after your poinsettia has stopped flowering, cut the plant back until it is only 4" to 6" above the soil in your pot. This will encourage new leaves to grow and your plant will become full and bushy.
- In the late spring or early summer, repot your poinsettia into a larger container (2"-4" wider and deeper). Keep pinching the new growth and fertilize every two weeks all summer. Poinsettias can be placed outside as long as you don't put them in the direct sun. If you keep them indoors all summer, place them in a room with bright indirect light
- Starting at the beginning of October, poinsettias need to be put into total darkness for 12-14 hours a day. Poinsettias require short days and long nights in order to bloom and for their bracts to turn color. They need complete darkness. The light from a streetlight, the moon or even the stars is enough to disrupt the cycle and delay the color. One way to do this is to move the poinsettia into an interior room without windows each afternoon and close the door. Remember to take it back out again each morning and return it to its bright location for the day.
- Follow this routine of providing your poinsettias with 12-14 hours of darkness until the flowers form and the bracts take on good color. This will take 60-85 days.