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Poinsettia care for Christmas and beyond

Poinsettias are a main symbol for the holiday season, but many do not know the proper way to take care of them.

A man hold a poinsettia in a greenhouse.
Steven Armstrong, owner of Erickson's Greenhouse, takes care of poinsettias Monday, Dec. 20, 2022, to be distributed to local churches for Christmas.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — ‘Tis the season for poinsettias, but many do not know the proper way to take care of the exotic plants.

Poinsettias are widely known for being associated with the holidays due to their bright red color and shape. However, the plant is native to Mexico and not fit for Minnesota’s sometimes brutally cold winter weather. There are many ways to kill it before it's reached its entire lifespan.

Poinsettias are actually perennials and can grow year-round. However, after about five weeks the plant will lose its leaves and need to regrow them.

Also, the plant will lose its color when the leaves come back if not properly cared for.

Poinsettias
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“(Poinsettias) originate from Mexico so they do like a lot of sunlight,” said Steven Armstrong, the owner of Erickson’s Greenhouse in Brainerd. “But to get them to flower again the next year, you'd have to put them in complete darkness, like no light at all. Even if a little light hits them for an hour, it'll slow it down. … To get them to turn red or whatever color they are. You have to put them in complete darkness for two to three weeks.”

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When Erickson’s Greenhouse takes care of the 225 to 250 poinsettia plants for the local churches and consumers to buy, they have them for approximately three weeks. During these three weeks, temperatures have to be closely monitored and every plant has to be hand watered. After distributing them to the churches, these plants should have about two to three more weeks of full bloom before they lose their leaves.

Despite it being a lot of work for Armstrong, it is not a lot of work to maintain them for the average person with one or a couple plants.

“One thing that basically kills them is over watering,” Armstrong said. “So you want to always cut that slip (the foil or wrapping on the bottom) as a real big key.”

A lot of customers are unaware that is why the roots of the plant rot out so quickly, said Armstrong.

Poinsettias
Erickson's Greenhouse takes care of over 200 poinsettias to get distributed to local churches for Christmas, Monday, Dec. 20, 2022.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

The reason for cutting a small hole in the foil on the bottom of the plant is to allow the water to drain. If a slit is not cut, the water will collect at the bottom of the pot and the roots will rot from overwatering. Armstrong recommends watering it every two to three days and said underwatering is generally better than overwatering for poinsettias.

Another important thing to remember is the plants are not used to cold temperatures and should be covered immediately before leaving the store. Taking the plant out into the cold weather without trapping the heat with a cover will shock the plant and essentially kill it immediately.

When picking out a poinsettia, there is an easy way to tell how much time the plant has left in its lifespan. The flower buds in the middle of the leaves can be used as an indication. If the buds are just beginning to change color, it will have more time left then if all of them are red already.

The one way to ensure a full life span out of the holiday plant is to make sure it isn’t being overwatered or shocked by the cold temperatures.

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Poinsettias
Steven Armstrong, owner of Erickson's Greenhouse, holds a poinsettia and shows the flower buds in the center on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022. These are a good indication on how far the plant is into its lifespan.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Poinsettia facts

  • Poinsettias bloom when the days get shorter.
  • The colorful “flowers” of poinsettias are actually modified leaves called “bracts.”
  • Poinsettias grow well in moist soil and temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees.
  • They can be grown outdoors during summer.
  • Poinsettias are not poisonous, but the sap may cause dermatitis.
  • Water the plant when the soil surface feels dry to a light touch, or pot feels lightweight when lifted. Never allow poinsettias to get so dry that they wilt.
  • They range from creamy white to pink to the traditional bright red. Some varieties have bracts with patterns in red and white, pink and white, or green and white and even bright orange.
  • In late spring or early summer, transplant your poinsettia into a larger container (about 2 to 4 inches bigger than the original pot) or into a part-sun garden bed.
  • In pots, use a soil mix with a good amount of organic matter such as peat moss. Make sure your new pot has good drainage.
  • In the garden, plant into a garden bed with well-drained soil that gets 4 to 5 hours of sun per day. Mix in organic matter such as peat moss or compost into the soil. This will help maintain soil moisture and create a good growing environment for the roots.  
  • Water your poinsettia thoroughly after transplanting.

Source: University of Minnesota Extension

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SARA GUYMON may be reached at 218-855-5851 or at sara.guymon@brainerddispatch.com . Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/SaraGuymon .

Related Topics: CHRISTMASBRAINERD
Sara Guymon recently joined the Brainerd Dispatch as a staff writer.
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