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Grower’s Corner: Caring for Poinsettias

Here’s a bit of trivia—why is a tropical plant from a warm environment considered a traditional Christmas plant?

Well, the answer reveals the story of the poinsettia. Originally known as the Taxco del Alarcon in Mexico and as cuetlaxochitl by the Aztecs, poinsettias gleaned their English name from the man who introduced the plant to the U.S., Joel Roberts Poinsett. Mr. Poinsett served as the first Ambassador to Mexico and in 1828 he came across some beautiful plants he had never seen before. A landowner with greenhouses on his South Carolina plantation, Mr. Poinsett sent some of the plants back to his greenhouses where he could grow them and eventually gift them.

As luck would have it, one of the friends that Mr. Poinsett shared his lovely red flowers with was John Bartram Jr., the son of the famed Philadelphia botanist and horticulturalist. Mr. Bartram, an heir to his father’s garden business, brought the plant to the first Philadelphia Flower Show (a popular annual event that continues to this day). There, botanist Robert Buist found the plant. He is believed to have been the first person in the U.S. to sell poinsettias—even though he sold them as cut flowers at the time.

Of course, now we’ve come to expect bushy poinsettia shrubs, sometimes with foiled wrapped pots, every holiday season. Their vibrant red coloring, which once was used as a dye for clothes and cosmetics by the Aztecs, is now instantly recognized as a sign of Christmas. Gorgeous white poinsettias have also taken their place in the American imagination. Their starlike flowers appear to twinkle among the green leaves.

As for Mr. Poinsett, who introduce such a favorite and iconic flower to the United States, after serving as the Ambassador to Mexico under President Madison, he later became the US Secretary of War and then helped to create what we now know as the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. And throughout, he considered himself a botanist and scientist foremost.

How to Care for Your Poinsettias

Poinsettia Myths

Before delving into how to care for your poinsettia, let’s bust a couple of poinsettia myths. Some people believe that poinsettias are poisonous or dangerous to pets. To be clear, poinsettias are not a toxic plant, even though some of its cousins are. And while a pet that snacks on your flowers is likely to vomit or drool, it will not otherwise harm your beloved cat or dog. Regardless, if your furry pal has a tendency to try to nosh on plants, it’s still a good idea for both your pet and your poinsettia to place your plant in a place that your cat or dog can’t reach.

Appropriate Lighting & Temperature for Poinsettia

When you take your poinsettias home from Multiflora Greenhouses, you’ll want to find them some ideal spots in your home. A nice sunny location is perfect for encouraging a longer lifespan. However, if you have drafty windows, you may not want to place your plant too close to them. Poinsettias don’t like shifts in temperatures, so keep them away from radiators or heating registers or doors that open frequently.

Because poinsettias are tropical plants they are not fans of the cold. During the day, they appreciate room temps of about 65 to 75 degrees. At night, like many of us, they prefer a cooler environment (around 55 degrees). Of course, we don’t advise you turn your thermostat to 55 degrees, however, if you have a room in your home that is cooler, moving your plant there at night may help it last longer.

Caring for Poinsettias: Watering a Poinsettia

Poinsettias are tropical plants and are not fans of dry soil! When your soil is dry, it’s time to water your plant. Make sure that any excess water is draining well to prevent root rot. If you have foil around your plant’s pot, punch holes into it at the bottom and place your plant on a saucer to allow it to drain properly.

How frequently you’ll need to water your plants will depend on your indoor environment. If your plant starts dropping bracts, check the soil and make sure it is not dry.

Notes on Increasing Lifespan

These tips should help you keep your poinsettia beautiful and healthy through the holiday season. However, if you really want to challenge your green thumb, you can try to keep your poinsettia alive year after year. That’s right—poinsettias are completely capable of surviving for a long time, they just have some temperamental needs that must be met. With care and attention, your plant can thrive and reflower in time for the next holiday season.

To make this happen, you’ll need to take some special precautions. Feed your plant every month (or according to your fertilizers instructions), except when it is bloom. In the springtime, you can reduce watering a tad and trim back the plant in late spring. For bushier growth, you can pinch back new growth during the summer about an inch or so. Your plant is OK to spend some time outside, as long as it’s not too hot or cold (remember those ideal temps!).

During the fall, your poinsettia will need lots of sleep. To ensure it gets its beauty rest and is ready to bloom, it will require 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness daily starting around October 1st. Set a reminder to place a box over your poinsettias at, say, 7 PM and then you can uncover them at 7 AM the next day. Keep this up for 8 weeks and you should be rewarded with vibrant colors!

Get Gorgeous Poinsettias From Your Favorite Greenhouse

Do you have your holiday poinsettias yet? If not, make sure to stop by Multiflora Greenhouses to have your pick! You’ll be amazed at the vibrant display. In fact, we’re pretty used to our amazing customers bringing along their cameras to snap some sweet holiday pictures in front of the gorgeous flowers. Grab the family and stop on by—even well-behaved four-legged pals are welcome. We can’t wait to see you!

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