How to Plant and Grow Poinsettias
The vibrant red and green leaves of poinsettias make them a perfect choice for Christmas décor, which is clearly one of the reasons they are so popular around the holidays. Of course, they also come in orange, white, pink, cream and even marbled varieties, but red is the most popular and most commonly available for purchase.
This colored foliage is often confused for a poinsettia flower, but it is actually a grouping of bracts, which are specialized leaves. The flowers are the tiny yellow buds clustered at the center of these leaf groupings.
Most people purchase poinsettias for the Christmas holidays, and then discard them once they lose the bright red foliage for which they are known. Because of the short time they spend in our homes, most Americans believe that poinsettias are houseplants. In fact, they are commonly referred to and treated as plants by nurseries, gardeners, and even the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, they are actually small, tropical trees native to Southern Mexico that can grow up to 12 feet tall in the wild.
Historically, poinsettias were used to decorate churches in Mexico and Guatemala and for medicinal purposes and fabric dye by the Aztecs. They were first introduced in the United States in 1828 by Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, who was the first American ambassador to Mexico.
Poinsett later died on December 12, 1851, which is why December 12 is the date on which we celebrate National Poinsettia Day each year.
According to the Floriculture Crops 2015 Summary, which is the most recent survey available from the USDA, there are more poinsettias sold in the United States each year than any other potted, flowering plant.
Nearly 32 million poinsettias were sold in 2015, which was slightly down from the 33.6 million sold in 2014. California was the largest producer of poinsettias with just under 5.8 million units sold by 45 commercial growers across the state in 2015. The Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas is the largest producer of poinsettias in the world with the majority grown at their production facility in Guatemala.
While poinsettia plants are most often used solely as holiday décor, with the proper care, they can be kept as houseplants year round or even planted in outdoor flowerbeds or containers if you live in an area that does not get frost or can bring them indoors for the winter.
How to Grow Poinsettias: Starting from Seeds, Cuttings and Established Plants
The easiest way to grow poinsettias is to purchase established plants when they are widely available during the Christmas season. While you will find the best selection in the weeks leading up to Christmas, you will find the best prices if you are willing to wait to see what is left after the holiday has passed.
You can then use these plants to grow additional poinsettias from cuttings or harvested seeds.
Propagating poinsettias from cuttings is easier, more common, and more consistent. To grow poinsettias from cuttings, wait until early summer when new growth begins to happen. Use clean scissors or gardening shears to cut stems that are at least three inches in length. Dip the cut end in powdered rooting hormones and place them firmly into a sterile potting substance, such as a mix of sand and perlite or pasteurized potting soil.
Once you have your cuttings planted, place a large plastic bag over the pot to create a mini greenhouse to encourage rooting, and place the plant in a sunny room but not in direct sunlight. Keep the soil moist and, once your new poinsettia plant is firmly rooted, you can transplant it to a larger container filled with potting soil. If your cuttings are intended for the garden, it is best to transplant them in the fall in an area that receives light shade. Remember: Your poinsettias will only do well in the ground outdoors if you live in an area that does not have frost.
Your other option is to grow poinsettias from seeds. Poinsettia seeds can be a bit difficult to find, but you can order them online or harvest them from established plants. Harvest the seed pods in the center of the bracts when the foliage begins to brown. You will then need to dry the seed pods until they open and reveal the seeds. The easiest way to do this is to store them in a paper bag until they dry and open on their own.
Using one seed per pot, plant your seeds about an inch below the soil level and set your pots in a sunny room but not in direct sunlight. Keep the soil moist and watch for seedlings to begin appearing after about one to two weeks.
Growing Poinsettias: How to Care for Poinsettias Throughout the Year
Most of you are going to acquire your poinsettias during the holidays, and then continue to grow them in pots in hopes of enjoying the same showy displays of color next time Christmas comes around. So, as we look at how to grow poinsettias, we will focus on seasonal poinsettia care that will help keep your plants healthy and ensure you have plenty of opportunities to obtain cuttings to propagate new plants. This will allow you to enjoy your poinsettias for years to come.
Winter Poinsettia Care
You will most likely bring your poinsettias home during the winter, but even if you have existing plants you acquired last Christmas, the seasonal care will be the same.
The first thing to note is that poinsettias planted in the ground will only survive the winter in areas where there is no frost. Poinsettias planted in containers should be brought indoors during winter.
Keep your poinsettias in a sunny room away from warm or cold drafts. They should not be near windows, heating vents, or fireplaces. While they do like sun, they do not like a lot of direct sun, so they will fare best in areas with indirect sunlight, such as rooms where sunlight is filtered through light curtains. Keep in mind that poinsettias are sensitive to heat and cold, and they will lose their bracts if the ambient temperature varies too far outside of the 60-70 degree range.
It is okay to leave the decorative foil in place through the holidays, but if you plan to keep your plant beyond the season, you will then need to remove the foil. This will allow for better drainage. Keep the soil consistently moist during this time.
Since this is when poinsettias flower, you do not need to fertilize during the winter season.
Late Winter into Spring Poinsettia Care
You will likely enjoy the colorful bracts on your poinsettias through February or March. When the color is gone, it is time to prepare your poinsettia plant to get a little rest before it is time to start growing again. Cut the plant back to about six inches and make sure there is still a leaf or two on each stem. At this time, start watering your plants only when the soil is dry and give them a little houseplant fertilizer every two weeks.
This is also a good time to repot any plants that have overgrown their containers or are on need of an upgrade from the cheap, plastic pots they were sold in for the holidays.
Once the temperature is consistently above about 50 degrees, you can move your poinsettias outside. Just be sure to set them in an area with no direct sunlight and at least part shade.
Late Spring into Summer Poinsettia Care
Continue to water and fertilize your plants in the same manner. Around the end of July or beginning of August, it is time to prune your plants again. Leave stems that are at least four inches in length with one to three leaves on each stem.
Fall Poinsettia Care
Continue to water and fertilize your poinsettia plant in the same manner. If you live in an area where the temperature drops below about 45 degrees at night, you will need to bring your plants indoors. Remember to keep them away from heat sources, drafts, and direct sunlight.
Perhaps most importantly, this is when you will need to begin your preparations to encourage the bracts to change color and form the poinsettia flower we all know and love.
Growing Poinsettias: How to Make Poinsettias Bloom
Okay, so we have already covered that what most of us consider a poinsettia flower is actually a grouping of specialized leaves called bracts. However, these bracts are related to flowering, so it is accurate to say that we are trying to get the poinsettia to bloom.
Bracts change color to show off their vibrant red, pink, orange, white, cream, or marbled hues through a process called photoperiodism. To achieve this, each plant must experience complete darkness for about 14 hours every night. Anything less than complete darkness will disrupt the process and you will not have poinsettia flowers for Christmas this year. This means that it cannot be exposed to a street light, night light, or even the light from your phone screen.
To make sure your poinsettia is not exposed to light, you can cover them for 14 hours every night using a large, carboard box, an opaque garbage bag, or opaque shade cloth. You can also place your plants in a closet or bathroom, but make sure that no light will sneak in beneath the door. During the day, uncover your plants and make sure they get plenty of sunlight for at least six hours during the day (but not more than 10 hours).
You will need to continue this daily routine for about 10 weeks to make poinsettias bloom, so you will need to begin this process in mid-October to hopefully have color for pre-holiday parties.
Once the bracts begin to show color, you can stop maintaining this strict light-and-dark schedule and bring your plant back out into your home for you and your guests to enjoy.
At this point, you will want to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Discontinue fertilizing during the blooming stage and start again in spring when you prune your plants.