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How to ensure that your poinsettia lasts beyond the holidays

Colorful poinsettias are more than holiday decor — with a little care, they can stay festive for years.
Colorful poinsettias are more than holiday decor — with a little care, they can stay festive for years.

True or false: Poinsettia plants are lovely during the holidays but best deposited in the trash receptacle in January.

If you answered true, think again. Poinsettias are more than holiday decor. Native to Mexico and Central America, the poinsettia is a perennial that thrives outdoors in mild climates. As landscape plants, they grow year round and reach great looming heights (up to 10 feet). The decorative poinsettia will remain festive for a number of years with a bit of fussy cultivation.

Of course, most plants require some care if they are to last beyond a month — in this, the poinsettia is really no different.

If you are doing the shopping, pick a healthy specimen. Look for dark green foliage and colorful bracts. The traditional red type has given way to varieties that range from white, pink and speckled combinations. Poinsettias wither with even a hint of frost.

Place the plant in a sunny, warm location. Aim for daytime temperatures between 60°F and 70°F and nighttime temperatures of 55° to 60°F to extend blooming. Avoid drafts, keep soil moist, and use a soluble houseplant fertilizer.

Maintaining your poinsettia — and getting it to reflower next year — requires your 2016 calendar. Yes, you heard me right; you’ll want to jot down some seasonal reminders.

At the end of February cut flowering stems to 4 inches to 6 inches, leaving one to three leaves on each shoot. Fertilize twice monthly.

At the end of spring, repot using a slightly larger container. Select an indoor potting soil mix. When the chance of frost is gone, place the poinsettia outside in a shady spot. Irrigate as necessary and fertilize regularly.

In August, prune all shoots to 4 inches, leaving one to three leaves on each shoot.

By mid-September the plant should be brought inside. Continue fertilizing to promote flowering. At this time, force blooming by covering the plant in complete darkness between the hours of 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. nightly. Reduce fertilizer when in bloom.

By December, your poinsettia should be ready to emerge — whether you are or not.

Got a gardening question?

In San Luis Obispo call 781-5939, Arroyo Grande, 473-7190 and Templeton, 434-4105. Visit us at http://ucanr.org/sites/mgslo/ or email us at anrmgslo@ucanr.edu. Follow us on Instagram at slo_mgs and like us on Facebook. Informative garden workshops are held the third Saturday of every month, 10 a.m. to noon at 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo. Garden docents are available after the workshop until 1 p.m. To request a tour of the garden, call 781-5939.