Nothing says Christmas like a red Poinsettia plant adorning your festive mantlepiece! They add a pop of festive colour and bring all the benefits of indoor plants. The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are thought to symbolise the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus.
Poinsettia plants are native to southern Mexico and are named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the man who first brought them back from Mexico to the USA. Situated in their natural climate, they grow on into Poinsettia trees.
According to Mexican legend, a young girl and her brother were the first to discover the Poinsettia. The children were very poor and could not afford a gift to bring to the Christmas Eve Festival. Not wanting to arrive empty handed, the children stopped beside the road and gathered a bouquet of weeds. When they arrived at the Festival, they were ridiculed by other children for their poor gift. When they placed the weeds beside the Christ Child in the manger however, the Poinsettia plants burst into brilliant red blooms because the children had given the gift of genuine love. Everyone who saw them was sure they had seen a miracle and from that day on, they were known as the ‘Flores de Nochabuena’, or ‘Flowers of the Holy Night’.
How many of us though have managed to keep that gorgeous plant alive from one Christmas to the next? How many of us have actually managed to keep it alive until the decorations come down? Here are the best five tips to help your Poinsettia survive the festive season:
- First of all when buying, choose a plant that has little yellow flowers, called cyathia, in the centre of the red leaves. Do not chose a plant that is shedding pollen or where the yellow flowers have dropped off: this means it is past its prime and will not last through the season.
- Poinsettias hate the cold, even the journey home from the supermarket can shock them. Never buy one from an outdoor display: they have already been exposed to temperatures below what they enjoy. Buy one from the middle of an indoor display where that plant has had the protection of the others plants around it.
- To keep the plant in optimum health, keep it at a temperature of 10 to 20 degrees, do not put the Poinsettia in a room colder than this. Avoid exposing the plant to hot or cold drafts, which may cause premature leaf drop. If last year’s Poinsettia was a poor, leggy site, with only a couple of sad looking leaves hanging on for dear life, it was probably exposed to temperatures that were too cool, or to extreme shifts in temperature.
- Situate your Poinsettia near a sunny window where it will have the most available sunlight: south, east or west facing windows are preferable to a north facing window. Poinsettias appreciate as much direct sunlight as you can provide.
- Water your Poinsettia when the soil is dry to the touch. The fastest way to kill them is from overwatering which causes the roots to rot. A good tip is to water, then let the pot drain completely in the sink. Do not let a Poinsettia stand in water.
To keep your Poinsettia alive until next year, place it in a bright window after Christmas and continue to water it as normal. After Easter, remove the coloured leaves which are called bracts. Feed the plant then every two weeks with a regular fertilizer. Around September, move the Poinsettia to a room where it gets only natural light and is allowed to stand in darkness after sunset. In October, move it back to your regular living area. There are other methods of keeping a Poinsettia alive until the next Festive season but this one is by far the easiest to try.