The poinsettia has long been a bright and colorful symbol of the holidays. This beautiful red and green Mexico native first became associated with Christmastime during the 17th century. Franciscan priests near Taxco, Mexico began using the plant in the Fiesta of Santa Pesebre, a nativity procession. Today, it's a permanent fixture of our holiday season with a natural flowering time of December through March.

Keep your holiday symbol looking fresh for months with these tips:

  • Place your flower in an area with lots of natural light.
  • Keep temperature around 70 degrees during the day and 60-65 degrees at night. Avoid hot and cool drafts, especially from appliances, radiators or registers. Cooler temperatures will keep the bracts (brilliantly colored leaves) bright, while warmer temperatures will fade the bracts to dull pink.
  • Water when the soil is dry to the touch. Give it enough water to thoroughly wet all the soil. A six-inch pot will take about eight ounces of water. Better yet, set the plant in a pan of water for a half hour.
  • Keep in mind that poinsettias hate soggy roots. So, either poke a few holes in your plant's fancy plastic wrapper or remove it so excess water can drain out. Water sparingly beneath the leaves as water spots can mar the foliage.
  • Fertilize your plant once you've had it for two weeks with a complete fertilizer such as 15-5-10 according to package directions. Repeat this every seven to ten days until the plant loses its brightly colored bracts.

Help your poinsettia reflower next holiday season:

  • Cut the plant back 8 to 10 inches when the bracts fade in May. The plant will look odd for a while but will eventually grow new branches. This means the poinsettia will be fuller for next Christmas.
  • Transplant it to a larger pot if its original pot is fairly small. It's best to use an indoor soil mix with a good amount of organic matter like peat moss or leaf mold.
  • Avoid temperatures under 50 degrees. You may place it outside when temperatures are warm. In the fall, return the plant to the house and place in direct light.
  • Fertilize the plant at seven to 10 day intervals with a water-soluble or a slow-release fertilizer meant for household plants. Be sure to follow package instructions.
  • Cover the plant with a dark plastic garbage bag for 13 to 14 hours each night, starting September 25. Cover it from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. for three weeks. Or, place it in a completely dark closet for this same time period. Just make sure no light comes through or under the closet door, not even dim light. Don't miss a night, because that will delay flowering and don't cover all day because the plant needs some sunshine. During this time, continue to water and fertilize your plant.
  • During October, November and early December, poinsettias require 6-8 hours of bright sunlight, with night temperatures between 60-70 degrees.

By December, your poinsettia should bloom into a lovely holiday flower all over again.

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