Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Reblooming a Poinsettia the Laidback Way

Your poinsettia looked like this when you bought it…

The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) you bought for Christmas last year is probably now a small green shrub… and will remain a small green shrub if you don’t do something about it.

And probably like this right now.

You see, the poinsettia is a short-day plant, that is to say, it only blooms when days are less than 12 hours long. So its flowering starts to be initiated starting about September 22 in the Northern Hemisphere… and usually actually begins to occur about two months later, well in time for Christmas.

It all sounds wonderful: as days get shorter, the poinsettia should simply bloom naturally, right? Well, that may work in the plant’s native Mexico, or in other tropical countries where it grows outdoors, but it won’t work in the average home.

You see, we light our homes at night, extending the number of hours of daylight to 16, 17, or 18 hours a day. Yet what the plant really requires is no light at all from the end of the afternoon until the following morning. Even a single ray of light at the wrong time and it may not bloom.

So what’s a gardener to do?

The Hard Way

When I first started gardening, I was told you had to put your poinsettia in a closed box or a closet at 4 pm each day and remove it daily, putting it back in the sunlight, at 8 am. And that does work… but what a job! It means you have to be home at the right time each day (forget job considerations, or taking a weekend trip), plus you have to remember to do it every single day, without fail (not my strength: I’m good on resolutions, but weak in followthrough). If you forget even once, the plant won’t bloom. I’d be surprised even one person in 10 gets their poinsettia to bloom that way, yet check out most websites and books: that’s still the usual advice!

The Laidback Way

Here’s how I get my poinsettias (note the plural: I have all kinds, in lots of different colors) to rebloom. It works every time and requires no daily effort.

Place the plant in a room that you don’t usually use at night, but that is at least moderately sunny during the day: a guest room, for example. Now unscrew all the light bulbs in the room. Next, place the poinsettia near the window. Since you removed the light bulbs, even if you enter the room in the evening and try to turn the light on by accident (forgetting that is temporarily forbidden), you simply can’t. Whatever you were looking for in that room, you’ll just have to search for in the dark or wait until daylight to retrieve. And because your poinsettia has had a daily regime of short days, it will necessarily bloom at Christmas.

You don’t have a room that is not used at night? Then place your poinsettia near a sunny window somewhere else indoors and set up a panel of some sort between it and the rest of the room. Even a “wall” of taller houseplants will do, as long as no artificial light reaches the poinsettia. And this will give you a beautifully blooming poinsettia with no extra effort.

Otherwise, continue your usual care through the fall, remembering especially to water when the soil is almost dry and adding a bit of fertilizer. There is no need for special temperatures or extra high humidity… and certainly don’t prune (you’d be cutting off future flowering stems).

Merry Christmas in advance!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

10 comments on “Reblooming a Poinsettia the Laidback Way

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  8. So it’s late pointsettia is hanging in there..losing leaves and brachs..will try to remedy that with your advise..will it eventually lose all…unless? Should i transplant it out of the plastic pot it came in? if it becomes naked..should i hang on to it and try to start it up in Sept.?

    • It probably will lose all its bracts, but hopefully not all its leaves. And even if it does (usually because of drought stress), it will likely grow back nicely if you cut it back harshly… and don’t let it dry out. If it does not green up again, it’s a goner and of course, there will be no need to treat it in September.

      Transplant? Obviously, I can’t see your plant, bu that could be a good idea: if yours is growing in a fairly small pot, it may well need more root space.

  9. Pingback: Why Don’t My Euphorbias Bloom? – Laidback Gardener

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