Garden Guide: How to take care of poinsettias
Did you know the most beautiful flowers of the holiday season are not flowers at all? Poinsettias actually have unremarkable flowers that are tiny, yellow-green looking buds. Those "buds" are actually called cyathia. They contain just the most basic parts needed for reproduction, one is female and the others are male.
The festive colors that surround these specialized structures are called bracts. They're basically just colorful leaves, and they can keep their color for months! That’s not just a fun fact, it’ll help you pick the healthiest plant at the store!
How to choose the poinsettia
If you’d like a poinsettia to last for a long time, look at the center of the colorful bracts for tiny bright green and unopened flowers. When these blooms turn brown, the color is going to start to fade.
Plants that are larger in size have a better chance at survival. Small poinsettias are typically forced into bloom, which takes up a lot of their energy and usually leads to their demise. Basically those are throwaway plants.
How to get poinsettias to bloom again?
After the holiday season is over, some natural leaf drop is expected. As long as a few leaves remain through the wintertime, it’ll be off to a good start for a summer of success outdoors!
These plants should be cut back in early spring when they go outside and given a fresh pot of soil. I bring mine outside in full afternoon shade all summer long. Pruning these back will force the plant to produce larger and thicker stems that are better equipped to handle the outdoor elements.
Poinsettias are native to tropical climates in Central America and Mexico and don’t make great houseplants all year long. The subtle changes in temperature and daylight hours that happen outside later in the summer will trigger them to bloom. I keep mine outside in a protected spot during a few light frosts, but they should go inside before temperatures drop below 32F.
Why do most poinsettias die?
Poinsettias are pretty low, maintenance houseplants, but if you notice they seem to die almost immediately after the holidays, it may not be your fault.
They’re prone to a fungus called Botrytis Flower Blight. The fungus develops when they are growing in the greenhouse - before they even make it to store shelves. When the fungus is mature, it covers the tips of the leaves and most new growth with grayish mass of moldy fuzz. This chokes off any new growth and will kill your plant.
If the fungus sprouts, it’s best to just toss the plant out before the spores pass onto your other plants. Gardeners who are serious about keeping poinsettias should apply a copper fungicide spray when poinsettias are first brought home and reapplied every few weeks to prevent the fungus from ever sprouting.
Caution for pet owners:
Poinsettias are part of the Euphoria family. All of these plants produce a toxic white sap when the leaves are broken off. If a dog or cat eats the plant, it'll be a very uncomfortable experience. Fortunately, the sap doesn't usually require emergency vet visits.
The plant and even its sap are harmless to touch for most people, but the sap can result in an uncomfortable rash in sensitive people.