Issue: April 4
You can save your poinsettia for next year if you are willing to take the effort
Q. I have a question about poinsettias. We have one here in the office that was a Christmas gift. We want to keep it for next Christmas. What do we need to do to keep it alive and to have the leaves turn red for Christmas 2009?
A. This is a common question for this time of the year. By now many poinsettias (especially those in office environments) have dropped their red bracts and perhaps they have dropped some of their leaves. The loss of leaves is the way that this plant adapts to stress; it still has the potential to grow if the stress is removed. An office is a very stressful environment.
You can trim the poinsettia plant to a height of 4 to 6 inches to remove the long stems and encourage new growth. As new leaves are formed, increase watering to prevent drought stress that will result in loss of these new leaves. When possible to move the plants outside without danger of frost, move them to a bright location protected from the wind. Fertilize with a houseplant fertilizer to encourage growth. As the new stems reach a length of 4 to 6 inches pinch the tips to encourage additional branching. These new branches will each produce the red bracts next winter.
Continue this process, growing the poinsettia plant outside until threat of freezing forces you to bring the plant indoors. After the autumnal equinox (whether the plant is indoors or outside), be sure that the plant is not exposed to night-time lighting. This is a plant that is induced to flower by long night conditions. Once the plant is indoors, provide protection from light at night by moving the plant to a closet each night (returning it to a bright room near a window during the day), or by covering the plant at night with a black fabric or plastic to exclude light. Remove this cover during the day so the plant can continue to photosynthesize and to prevent overheating during the day.
If the plant does not experience interrupted nights from the autumnal equinox until flowers form, you should have red bracts by Christmas, perhaps by Thanksgiving, next winter.
You expressed a desire to grow and rebloom the poinsettia. You are one of the gardeners who enjoy the challenge of growing and reblooming poinsettias. Other gardeners find it easier to purchase a new plant each winter. Perhaps you will want to provide a companion for your poinsettia next year. If so, consider an ornamental New Mexico chile for winter decoration with your reblooming poinsettia. It is easy to regrow and produces edible, hot, chile pods to enjoy while looking at your poinsettia.
For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h.
Send your gardening questions to:
Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Agricultural Science Center
1036 Miller Rd. SW
Los Lunas, NM 87031
Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.