Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) fill our homes with holiday cheer, but when the Christmas decorations get packed away, the plants sadly tend to go, too. Some folks have no problem sending the festive beauty directly to the compost bin. Others treat it like a regular houseplant until the colorful leaves drop off in spring. But a select few will hold onto their poinsettias with visions of reblooming the pretty plants for next Christmas. It isn’t an easy thing to do, and those who try it should be commended for their efforts.

Old reblooming poinsettia

This poinsettia has been rebloomed for four seasons! (Notice the new growth coming from the woody stem.)

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

Poinsettia

With proper lighting, the green bracts around the plant’s tiny, yellow flowers will turn that familiar red for the holidays.

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

If you’d like to try keeping your poinsettia alive and well long after this year’s holiday season, there are a few things you need to know. Here’s the problem that most homeowners have difficulty overcoming: Poinsettias are short-day plants. That means they start the blooming process when the hours of darkness exceed the hours of daylight. In my area (North Carolina), the magic day when it’s naturally dark longer than it’s light is around Sept. 23. To rebloom your existing poinsettia by Christmas, you need to expose it to natural day lengths from that point on. That means no extra light – because excess light delays blooming (and the turning of green bracts to red).

Avoiding extra light might sound easy, but remember, it starts to get dark earlier and earlier come fall, and you probably don’t want to turn the lights off in your house at 5:30 p.m. You might try keeping the plant in a separate room that gets adequate daylight but can be darkened as night falls. If that’s not an option, you can move your plant in and out of a closet daily or cover your poinsettia with a box when the sun sets and you turn the lights on. Just don’t forget to bring your plant back into the light come morning! (Poinsettias need at least six to eight hours of bright sunlight.)

If you live in a warm area where the plants are grown outside, or if you keep your plant on a windowsill, be aware that streetlights can affect the flower timing as well. (In commercial production, poinsettia greenhouses are located away from artificial light – though some plants are purposefully lit to delay flowering so that fresh poinsettias are available late in the holiday season.)

While proper lighting is the key element to reblooming your poinsettia, there are a few more things you need to do to maintain a healthy plant throughout the year: In late spring, cut the branches back to about 8 inches. Then continue to water your poinsettia as needed, and fertilize it with a balanced, all-purpose feed. In July, if your plants become “leggy” or too big, pinch them back to ensure compact growth. (Pinching removes the end of the branch and encourages more flowers. Just be sure to leave four to six leaves on every branch you pinch.) My neighbor follows this regimen, and her poinsettia always reblooms beautifully!

Although they’ve become a winter holiday plant tradition, remember that poinsettias are sensitive to cold injury. They’re happiest with night temperatures ranging from 60-70 degrees F. If you do transplant your poinsettia to an outdoor bed in spring, the first frost will likely kill it. But if you forget, don’t worry. You’ll already have enjoyed its beauty for nine months or more. If you want to be able to bring it back inside, consider leaving your plant in a container so you can bring it back in come fall.

Finally, if your poinsettia doesn’t manage to color up by Christmas (due to improper lighting), don’t give up on it just yet. It’ll most likely change eventually, but you might want to purchase some new ones for holiday décor. And you know what that means – more holiday shopping! (And then more poinsettia growing later!)