One of the standard flowers for the holidays is the poinsettia. This Mexican native is actually a 10- to 15-foot-tall shrub in warmer climates. Originally varieties of poinsettias were red. Now there are more than one hundred varieties in colors such as white, pink, purple, and speckled. Some people even paint their poinsettias to make them more festive for the holidays.
Regardless of the type of poinsettia you have purchased or received, the care after the holidays is the same. Keep your holiday poinsettia in a bright room with at least six hours of sunlight a day. Keep the soil barely moist, but don’t let the leaves wilt. Overwatering or underwatering tends to make the brachts (modified leaves that show color) drop. The cooler the room, the longer the poinsettia will keep looking attractive. However, avoid places with cold drafts. Plants kept in 60 degree F rooms will stay attractive for up to eight weeks. Keep the poinsettia away from young children and pets. Even though the leaves are not poisonous (a fifty-pound child would have to eat five hundred leaves to be affected), the milky white sap can cause skin irritation and stomach upset.
In spring you’ll have a decision to make. Either toss the old plant into the compost, or if you’re up for a horticultural challenge, grow your poinsettia to color up again next fall. Here’s how: Cut your plant back. Repot it and place your poinsettia outdoors after all danger of frost has passed in a sunny, east-facing location. Keep the plant well watered and fertilized all summer. Pinch the branches periodically to keep it in the shape you like. In fall move the plant back indoors before a frost into a brightly lit, cool room. Starting October 1, cover the plant, giving it fourteen hours of continuous darkness at night, while bringing it back into the brightly lit room during the day. Any light at night will delay the coloring up of the brachts. By December your brachts should be showing color and you can bring the plant into the room full time.