Q: We have a really beautiful poinsettia this year. Can we save it and have it bloom again next December?
After the colored bracts fall, you can keep it like any house plant, in good light and warm temperatures. Some people find it easier to put the plant in a cool place out of direct sun and let it go semi-dormant. In this case you would water only when it gets completely dry.
Next spring, after the last frost, pot it up to a larger container using fresh potting soil and cut back all of the stems, leaving the plants only a few inches tall. Put the plant outside where it will get at least a half-day of good sun and begin feeding with a balanced fertilizer according to the label. Pinch back the stems several times during the summer to make a bushier plant, which will have more flowers.
The real trick to getting a poinsettia to bloom will come next fall. Poinsettias need “long nights” to trigger them to bloom. One way or another you’ll need to provide about 14 hours of total darkness each night for about six weeks starting in mid-September. You can do this by placing it in a room with good sunlight, but which will have no lights turned on at night. Or if you can remember to do it every day, you can cover it with a box at 5:00 or 6:00 every night and uncover it in the morning. Make sure the plant has good sunlight during the day. Let it get a little dry between waterings.
Once the bracts begin to show a little color, probably in late October or early November, you can bring the poinsettia back to civilization to enjoy again.
Some other facts about poinsettias: they were named after Joel Poinsett, the American Ambassador to Mexico who carried plants home to South Carolina about 1830. While they’re often classified as toxic, a person or animal would have to eat a lot of poinsettia to become ill.
Written by Glenn Palmer, originally published in the Asheville Citizen Times.