Caring for Poinsettias

By Virginia Hayes

I was driving home from the post office the other day and there
it was — one of the big, mature poinsettia shrubs that grace some
of the older neighborhoods. I’ve been driving by it all year, of
course, but now it has put out its red bracts to celebrate winter
in immodest style. Having dropped most of its green leaves, the
remaining red display is enough to knock your socks off. This
particular specimen is easily 10 feet tall, almost up to the eave
of the modest bungalow it grows by. It is equally as wide,
spreading across a large portion of the south-facing wall it

This is the prime type of planting site for poinsettias in our
climate. While poinsettias can survive temperatures down to 25
degrees or so, they prefer the kind of warmth reminiscent of their
native habitat in Mexico. Placing one against a wall to take
advantage of the reflected heat, especially one getting maximum
solar collection from the south, can’t be beat. The only other
requirement is to make sure it has well-drained soil. Cold, wet
soil through the winter is the most common cause of failure with
this otherwise easy-to-grow plant.

If you end up with a potted poinsettia this season, here’s how
to nurture it until the holidays are over. Keep it in high light
during its stay indoors. Water regularly, but don’t let it stand in
water. If it is in a plastic or foil pot sleeve, take it out, water
it in the sink or tub, and leave it there until completely drained
before putting it back. Maintain the temperature of its
surroundings at about 70 degrees during the day and between 60 and
65 degrees at night. If temps fall below 50 degrees, it may drop
its leaves. Start feeding it with a weak, balanced fertilizer in
late December and continue until temperatures outside begin to
approximate those indoors, before planting out. In March or April,
prune the canes back to two or three dormant buds and it will
reward you with bushy re-growth during the summer. Continue
pinching back to encourage bushy growth or thin canes in mid summer
to produce sturdy plants with fewer, larger flowers.

Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer
your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent,
122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to


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