Rosie Macdonald describes how to keep that blaze of colour going
Q: At about this time every year I buy poinsettias to give as Christmas presents. Do they come in colours other than red or white and is it worth trying to keep them going from year to year? What is the best way to keep a poinsettia flowering? (Read our guide to the best Christmas puddings to buy, no stirring required.)
How to keep a poinsettia into the New Year
The poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, was originally available in red only. Growers have now increased the colour range to include white, cream, lemon, pink, salmon, orange and purple. Multicoloured bracts (a bract is a modified or specialized leaf) and variegated foliages are also available. There is an assortment of reds for the more traditional: Lemon snow (Fislemon), a bicoloured strawberries and cream (Eckaloha), a deep plum Cortez Burgundy (Kamp Burgundy) or Silver Star (Fisflirt Silver).
It can be quite difficult to keep a poinsettia from year to year as the ideal conditions for them are hard to maintain. However, the coloured bracts can last up to six months. To encourage this, keep the plant in bright conditions but away from direct sunlight and draughts. Temperatures below 13ºC (55ºF) and overwatering will quickly damage the plant. Water only when the surface of the compost begins to dry out. A humid atmosphere will also help prolong the poinsettia’s life.
To keep the plant for flowering the following year you need to allow the compost to dry out after all the leaves have fallen off. Cut the stems back to 4in from the compost surface and keep the plant cool and well protected from frosts. In May re-pot in compost and begin watering and then feeding when the new shoots appear. Remove some of the new growth to leave four or five of the strongest stems.
In September cover with a bin-liner from early evening until morning to give the plant 14 hours of total darkness. Continue this each evening for about eight weeks as it encourages flowering. Then follow normal care guidelines regarding light, temperature and watering.
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This post was originally published in 2007 and has been updated.