QUESTION: What do you do with poinsettias after Christmas? Can I keep it growing for next season? -Tami R.
ANSWER: Poinsettias start to look a little bit sad after the holidays have passed. At this point, depending on where you live, you have several choices as to what to do with your poinsettia. The most common choice is to throw it out and buy a new one next year. They typically only cost around $10, and you get to enjoy them from whenever you bought them in late October or early November through the New Year. However, some people don’t like throwing out plants if there is an alternative, and with poinsettias, there is an alternative, in most cases.
If you live in zones 9-11, or an area that doesn’t get too cold in the wintertime, you can plant your poinsettias outside in the ground and watch it grow into a large shrub or small tree that blooms every winter. If you live farther north, or in a cold climate area, don’t bother planting it outside, even if you provide protection, as poinsettias will turn to a mushy mess at the first sign of a freeze.
If you really want to keep your poinsettia around for another year and insist on keeping it indoors, there is a way to bring it back after it goes through dormancy. However, don’t expect it to come back with the same beauty and color that it did the previous year, as that is nearly impossible to do, even with the most precise care and commitment. If you are still set on keeping your poinsettia houseplant for a second year, here’s the method for the madness:
Cut the plant back to four to six inches and repot it into a larger pot with new potting soil and sufficient drainage. Keep the soil moist, but never wet, or soggy and provide a bright light source. Feed during watering once every week using a liquid all-purpose houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength. Pinch back developing shoots every three to four weeks until early September, leaving only around five or six leaves per stem. After the first few weeks of September, let the stems grow as they will.
Bring your poinsettias into the house in October before the first frost hits. In order to get it to flower, give it 14 hours of complete darkness every day for six weeks. You can do this by moving it into a closet in the early evening and then placing it by a sunny window in the early morning. If you don’t supply 14 hours of darkness each day for six weeks, do not expect your poinsettia to bloom. Once you start to see color showing at the top of the bracts, you can stop hiding your poinsettias in the dark each day. Expect small and sparse blooming from second year poinsettias, even with precise care.
If this sounds like a lot of work for a small payoff, well, now you know why so many people choose to toss them out each year instead of keeping them around. If, at any point, you decide to give up and toss them out, don’t feel too guilty about it, as the majority of poinsettia lovers do the same thing every year.