Have you taken down your Christmas tree already? Tossed out the dry garland on the mantel? Well, don't toss out all of those poinsettias if they are still bright. Some gardeners love the challenge of making poinsettias bloom again next year. Such a challenge could be a great addition to your list of New Year's resolutions.
To get poinsettias to bloom again, you need to understand about the plants. Those big, showy red leaves are called bracts. The tiny buttons in the center of the bracts are the flowers, or cyathia. And the green stems are called petioles.
Some people believe poinsettias are poisonous, but research at Ohio State University indicates otherwise. Still, I don't think I would add poinsettias to the family's salad greens - the plants could be a bit tough to digest.
If poinsettias are still in good shape, they should be in full bloom by now. They grow best in a room between 60 and 70 degrees and away from any drafts. They can also get chilly if their leaves touch a cold window. They should be evenly moist, not too wet or too dry. If the conditions are not right, poinsettias will start to drop their leaves.
By February, the flowers in the centers of the plants will start to grow up and out. In March, the stems may be cut to six inches long. More leaves will start to sprout from the pruning sites. Keep two to three leaves on each stem so the plants can collect light and feed themselves. Place the poinsettias near a sunny window in the house and fertilize the plants every two weeks.
In summer, move poinsettias to bigger pots if they seem crowded and set the pots outside. One trick is to sink the plants down in soft spots in the garden, pots and all. If the pots have holes in the bottoms, the plants will take up moisture from below and will also get nature's rain and sun for a few months.
To keep the plants compact, pinch off the new growth in July. Leave the shoots only four inches long and start them in another pot. Take the poinsettias inside by late August.
Here's the tricky part. The plants need to go dormant in order to blossom. They need to be in a dark place for a while and then brought out into the light to turn colors. The Michigan State University extension office suggests putting the poinsettias in a lighted room for eight hours during the day starting Sept. 20.
After eight hours in the light, the plants should go back into darkness for the remaining 16 hours of the day. Do this every day until Dec. 1 and you will start to see the bracts' colors get bolder. Keep the plants watered and fertilized, and they should bloom again by the time you are rushing around shopping for next Christmas. Make 2007 a great year!