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January 4, 2019

Perennial poinsettia possible with simple care

File Photo
Poinsettias provide plenty of color at Christmas but typically get thrown away thereafter.
A poinsettia trimmed to 6 or 8 tall in April. Photo/Caroline Parks
Potted poinsettias growing outside with colorful coleuses plants. Photo/Caroline Parks
By Carolyn Parks
Master Gardener

Yes, it is possible to keep that beautiful poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) that you have cared for so religiously over the holiday season. Don’t bemoan the fact that its life has come to an end — resulting in just one more thing you must discard to make space for the next living plant.

So how do you keep that beautiful, colorful plant living, even as it begins to drop leaves and you feel you must bid the plant good-bye?

Pondering the same dilemma several years ago, I continued to water what was turning into a very leggy, worn-out-looking specimen of a once lovely red ornament in my house. Placing under it and other house plants that needed some rejuvenation under a shade tree in April, I basically forgot about the poinsettia.

To my amazement, upon closer observation a month later, the bare branches had begun to show some green growth. No longer were there red leaves on the plant, which dropped then over the winter. But they were being replaced by small green buds that slowly flourished into lovely green foliage, making a beautiful shrub. Unfortunately, I miscalculated the arrival of frost, and the beautiful poinsettia that I had faithfully watered and cared for, even when it looked dead, truly had died.

Last year, I received the gifts of beautiful poinsettias that graced my home decor during the holiday season. As one who loves living flora and who hates to throw away plants, even when they appear to be doomed, I decided to try again to keep the plants thriving for the next Christmas.

Keeping them watered during the winter months, even as the branches became barer and barer, they managed to stay alive until April. Then, I set them outside in pots and carefully trimming the plants to about 6 to 8 inches tall. There were six pots, two of which had more than one plant.

I did not at that point repot any of the plants, but instead freshened the top layer of soil and fed them with a standard household fertilizer. I placed them under the trees, where they enjoyed the morning sunlight but no direct afternoon sun. Not long after this placement the branches began to produce these miniature pale green shoots that continued to grow through the summer, a joy to watch expand.

If nature did not supply the adequate water, I did, also feeding them every two or three weeks with a mild liquid fertilizer. As the summer progressed, so did the growth of these plants, providing a beautiful display of potted plants surrounded by a larger planting of colorful coleuses, also in pots.

This time, I was not caught by unexpected frost, because I brought the plants inside on October 1. Keeping them well watered and giving them morning light, the new leaves started turning a shade of pink and then a deeper red over the next month.

They had dropped leaves but not to the extent of looking bare. They also grew new shoots.

They continued to grow more slowly, and still needed watering every three or four days.

The bright petals of poinsettia, which look like flowers, are actually the bunch of upper leaves of the plant called bracts. The flowers are small and green or yellow. They grow inconspicuously in the center of each leaf bunch.

In the house, the bracts slowly turned a deep shade of red, intensified when set off by the green.

Through research, I found the newer poinsettia cultivars are longer lasting than those available years ago. No more hiding the plant in a dark closet for a few months, as earlier instructions stated. We can enjoy these plants with the seasonal changes.

Some helpful hints

• Use minimal fertilizer to discourage too much height.

• Don't overwater or leave sitting in water.

• Repot if roots grow crowded in spring and fall.

• For a fuller plant, trim to 3 or 4 inches in the spring before setting them outside.

• The deer, squirrels and rabbits did not bother these plants. Some have suggested poinsettia are poisonous, but my research found nothing to support that.

Accept the rewarding challenge of turning your poinsettia into a year-long plant.
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