Want to keep your poinsettia for the entire year?
Q. This year I bought a beautiful poinsettia for the holidays. Can I keep it outside in the summer? I want to and bring it in next year and get it to turn red again!
A. I received a poinsettia a few years ago and took good care of it through the holidays and into spring. I put it outside for the summer in hopes that I could bring it back inside during the winter. With a little care and the right spot in my yard during the hot days of summer, it worked!
My poinsettia is in its third year and full of leaves when I brought it back inside in preparation for the holidays. Some things I've learned include:
Poinsettias are a tropical plant and love lots of light and humidity. While indoors, my plant sits in a Southern facing window sill and gets six+ hours of sunlight a day. They enjoy temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees. You'll need to protect your plant from cold drafts and any significant temperature shifts whether it's inside or outside your home depending on the time of year.
As for water, poinsettias do not like to sit in water so be sure to drain the tray when you do water your plant. I only water when the soil feels dry. Once it's outside, I let nature take over. When we have particularly dry, hot summers, I do watch it to be sure it doesn't dry out but do not overwater it.
Poinsettias do have a schedule and regimen that you should follow to ensure they bloom each season. Here's mine. Once the blooms fade in mid-March, prune your plant back to 6--8 inches. From March to May, just water as needed, allowing it to dry out between waterings.
During this time your poinsettia is taking a break from the holiday season. As mid-May arrives, I set my poinsettia outside (after the last frost) in an area that gets morning sun and dappled afternoon shade. It sits slightly under a small tree so that it is protected from harsh winds and isn't drenched if we have a heavy rain. You may want to plant it in a bigger pot as it begins to flourish. During this time, feed it a balanced organic fertilizer, biweekly. It's also a great time to pinch back some of the stems so that you encourage it to branch out.
During the summer months, my poinsettia is full of green leaves without any sign of a flower. My goal when bringing inside is to get it to flower for the holidays.
Here's where it gets a bit tricky. As summer fades and the temperatures start to get below 65, you'll need to bring your poinsettia inside. You'll need to give it a bit of extra love to ensure that as the holidays approach you'll get those colorful red (or other variations) of flowers that you so enjoy during the holidays. To do that, make sure your plant gets 12 hours of complete darkness. Do this for about eight weeks. My plant comes inside in October and out of darkness around Thanksgiving. The challenge is to find a place in your home where you can give it 12 hours of darkness overnight and yet ensure it gets plenty of sunshine during the day.
Following this regimen should reward you with a blooming poinsettia just in time for the holiday season!
Once it has bloomed, keep watering it through spring and then set it out in your yard for the summer and nurture it in preparation for another season of crimson blooms.
-- Wendy Reiner
• Provided by Master Gardeners through the Master Gardener Answer Desk, Friendship Park Conservatory, Des Plaines, and University of Illinois Extension, North Cook Branch Office, Arlington Heights. Call (847) 298-3502 on Wednesdays or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit web.extension.illinois.edu/mg.