University of Illinois Extension


Sharon A. Yiesla
Unit Educator, Horticulture
Lake County Unit

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Poinsettias Are Here

The poinsettia is one of the most popular plants for the holidays. It has undergone much improvement in terms of size, durability and range of colors. The brightly colored bracts (often referred to as the flowers) come not only in the traditional red, but also white, yellow, pink and bicolors.

Selecting a Quality Plant

Look for a full plant with dark green leaves and brightly colored bracts. Examine the true flowers, which are the small, round yellow parts in the center of the bracts. If they are tightly closed, it is an indicator that the plant is fresh. As the plant ages, the true flowers will open. Avoid plants that are wilted, that have faded bracts, or have lost their leaves. These plants have received improper care and will not be long lasting.

When purchasing the plant, be sure to have the store clerk wrap the plant in a paper sleeve or bag. Poinsettias are tropical plants and are subject to chilling injury at temperatures below 50°F. Do not leave the plant in a cold car while shopping, or carry it home in the trunk.

Caring for Your Poinsettia at Home

Poinsettias must be cared for properly to insure that they flower well for a long time. Water so that the planting mix is kept consistently moist. Do not let the soil become soggy or overly dry as this will stress the plant and decrease flowering time. A plant that has its pot wrapped in decorative foil is at risk for over-watering. Punch holes in the foil to let water drain through. Do not let the poinsettia sit in a saucer full of water.

Keep the plant in a cool room (65-70°F) during the day and drop the night temperatures another five degrees if possible. This will help to extend the flowering time. Place the plant where it will not be affected by either hot or cold drafts. Plants kept in drafty areas may experience early leaf drop.
Give the plant good light. Bright, indirect light is ideal. The plant can be placed in direct sunlight but this may increase its water needs. North facing windows get very little light and should be avoided.

After the holiday season is over, you may want to keep the plant for next year. During the winter, maintain the poinsettia as you would any other houseplant: give it good light, regular watering and a monthly treatment with fertilizer. In spring, cut the stems back to 4-6 inches tall to stimulate new growth. If you prefer not to maintain the plant through winter, you can withhold water until the leaves drop and store the plant at about 60°F, with minimal watering until spring. In spring, cut stems back as described above and begin watering again. After new growth begins, pinch out the tips of the stems, if they appear to be growing too tall or leggy.

In summer, the plant can be kept indoors or placed outside. If placed outside, start it out in a partially shaded area and gradually move it to full sun after about two weeks. Fertilize as you would other houseplants. In fall, bring the plant indoors before night temperatures drop below 60°F.

Reflowering Your Poinsettia

Poinsettias can be difficult to reflower. Poinsettias are short-day plants, which means they flower in response to short daylengths (12 hours or less). To force a poinsettia to bloom, you must start giving it long nights and short days starting around the last week of September. From that week until around Thanksgiving, the plant should receive about 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness everyday. Any light during the dark period will delay flowering. The plant will need to be in the light for the other 11 hours of the day. The plant can be placed in a closet or box each day for the dark period. Once the long night/short day treatment period is over, you can treat the poinsettia the same as one just purchased from the store (as described above).

December 2001 - January 2002: Pointsettas Are Here | Buying Fresh Christmas Trees | Winter Weather & Plants | Pesticide Licensing in Illinois | Winter Deer Feeding

Past Issues

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