Learn how to care for Christmas cactus and poinsettias
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Poinsettias with beautiful red leaf-like bracts traditionally top the houseplant sales charts in December, becoming the most popular houseplant at Christmas, with the benefit being that the plants don’t break the bank. Most can’t resist adding this stunningly festive addition to their homes. Plant breeders, however, have worked their magic, bringing out shades of shocking pink, ice-white, neutral creams, variegated, marbled tones, even yellow and chestnut-brown, so there’s a plant to suit every style of home. As these indoor plants can be somewhat difficult to maintain, gardening experts at Westland have shared their top tips on how to care for your poinsettia this Christmas to help keep them “thriving”. They even claimed that plant owners can “keep it going throughout the year, ready for next Christmas, with a little TLC”.
How to keep Christmas poinsettias alive
1. Keep your poinsettia cosy
Poinsettias hate drafts and for this reason, are often sold in a protective wrapping of cellophane or paper. This is a vital part of protecting them from cold and wind damage, which can cause premature leaf dropping and harm an otherwise healthy plant.
At home, look for a bright spot in indirect sunlight, preferably close to a window, but take care not to let them touch freezing glass and keep them far away from drafts. In fact, any fluctuating temperature can be harmful, so fireplaces, heaters, and fans should also be avoided.
Roughly six hours of sunlight a day is a good measure of their needs. Interestingly, a poinsettia’s rich colour blooms most successfully with adequate access to darkness, which it requires for at least 14 hours per night. This simulates its natural growing conditions of short days and long nights.
The gardening pros said: “Poinsettias don’t like fluctuating temperatures or to be near a draft (like most of us really) They much prefer a steady room temperature between 18°C and 25°C. Poinsettias need warmth and plenty of natural, filtered light, so being close to a radiator shouldn’t be a problem. Don’t keep them near the fire, doorways or windows. Cosy temperatures are the way forward with this stunning red leafy plant.”
2. Feeding poinsettias
Many people don’t realise how hungry these plants really are. Feeding also helps prevent the leaves from going yellow, but avoid feeding when the plant is flowering.
The experts said: “Feeding your poinsettia is essential for a long-lasting display that can last through to March.” They advised feeding the plant once a week with regular houseplant fertiliser, so it can be used for all indoor plants, not just your Christmas poinsettias.
Poinsettias do fine with any good quality, all-purpose fertiliser. A water-soluble fertiliser is easiest to apply, but a dry fertiliser will also satisfy poinsettia fertiliser requirements. Be sure to water the plant thoroughly after fertilising poinsettias, especially if you use dry fertiliser. Otherwise, the fertiliser may scorch the roots and damage the plant.
Don’t bother fertilising your poinsettia while it’s blooming, it isn’t necessary. Similarly, if you don’t intend to keep the plant and your goal is to simply enjoy it as a holiday decoration, no fertiliser is needed. However, be sure to keep the plant well watered, but never soggy.
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3. Inspect the leaves
According to the pros, owners should get into the habit of inspecting their plants leaves for any that are turning yellow, falling off or curling up. They noted: “This indicates the plant is usually too dry. It’s not always easy to find the right place for your poinsettia to sit for the right heat and light, but once you’ve found it, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful, happy plant throughout the festive season.”
4. A mist a day
Because poinsettias originate in the hot climate of Mexico, they do enjoy a little humidity now and then which can be achieved with misting or using a pebble tray. The plant gurus said: “To keep those stunning red leaves vibrant and the green leaves a rich green, you can mist your plant to raise the humidity levels. The mist keeps the plant happy and saves you time in the long run too.”
Misting simply involves spraying the leaves (and bracts) of a poinsettia with a fine spritz of water regularly to keep the plant humid. Think of it like those fancy fruit and veg aisles in the supermarket, the mist keeps the plant happy and saves you time in the long run too. Grab yourself a spray bottle and fill it with room temperature water. Spray the leaves of the poinsettia every other day for ideal humidity.
Another simple way of keeping a poinsettia humid is to use a pebble tray. Find a tray or plate that has a larger diameter than the plant and then fill it with small rounded pebbles. When water is poured into the tray with the pebbles, it slowly evaporates creating a humid environment for the plant sitting above.
Clever, right? The pebbles simply separate the plant pot from the water and allow air to circulate over the water. Pebble trays are also a great technique when it comes to orchid care.
Well, like most houseplants too much water is just as bad as too little. A poinsettia will need enough water to keep the potting soil damp but not sodden. However, it is important to remember that watering frequency for any plant will depend on the size of the plant, where the plant is located and the room temperature.
The plant pros said: “There is no set number of days when to water your poinsettia. It’s simple really, pop your finger on the soil, if it’s bone dry, water it. Don’t overwater it though. What you want to avoid is the roots sitting in water, which will rot the roots – this isn’t good for any of your houseplants.”
A light daily water using a spouted jug is ideal for keeping poinsettia potting soil damp. Using no more than a splash or two to three tablespoons should be enough. In a sink, gently pour water into the potting mix until it flows through the drainage holes of the pot soaking the soil. Then allow the pot to drain fully for 10 minutes before returning it to its home – do this weekly.
Curiously, ice cubes are a great way to water because they aren’t messy, they release moisture slowly into the soil and prevent overwatering. Start with an ice cube per day and keep your eye on the soil moisture. Also ideal if you’re escaping your four walls for the Christmas holidays.
6. Extending its life
For those who are feeling brave, they can try to keep the plant alive for next year. The experts said: It takes a little work, but once you get going, you’ll be just fine. Allow your poinsettias to go a little drier between watering during the spring. In May, cut about four inches from each stem to foster a lush, full plant during the winter. Spring also is the best time to start fertilising. In May increase watering and re-pot when new shoots appear. It will need feeding once a week once it’s taken to its new pot.
7. Re-blooming poinsettias
To get poinsettias to re-bloom, the pros advised: “Limit its exposure to sunlight or this will affect the blooming process. By limit, we mean it needs to be in complete darkness for at least 12 hours a day and by complete darkness, we mean uninterrupted darkness. No walking into a room, opening a cupboard, nada.
“Some gardeners put their plant in a box between 5pm-8am, then put it in a sunny place in their home during the day. It does seem like a bit of a faff, but it’s only for eight weeks.” Once your flowers start to bloom, just feed it once a week with houseplant fertiliser, like you did the year before. The experts added: “Flower buds should be seen by November if all goes well. This process should ensure beautiful red petals again. It’s very rewarding seeing all your hard work come to fruition.”
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