You don't have to toss them out with the tree
by Stefani Leto
ou may have gone out and bought a poinsettia plant or two to decorate with for the holiday season. But now that the holiday is over, what can you do with it? Throwing it away seems so profligate, somehow, but how to keep it around?
Fortunately, it's relatively easy and quite rewarding. It also might make a neat science project for an older child. Plus, you can save tens of dollars every year, and have the satisfaction of saying, "Oh, no, that's the same plant again, sure." Friends and family will think you're a gardening genius.
It's easy. This year's plant will probably drop some leaves after the holidays. That's normal, partly due to indoor temperatures and light. Keep it moist but not drippy, and in a relatively well-lit, cool room. When spring comes and the weather warms up, move the poinsettia outdoors. These plants come from a relatively warm place, so wait until you'd plant beans, for instance. Make sure it's shaded from midday sun.
You (or you and your child, if you're watching together) will notice that the colored leaves change to green. Don't worry. The poinsettia is just doing what comes naturally. Remind yourself and your child that the "flowers" are really leaves that become brightly colored. The true flowers are the tiny yellow clusters in the middle of the red or white area. The plant will grow larger also. You can train it into a standard form, by trimming stems which grow lower and branch out. If you want to do this, a firm stake to which you can tie the main stem will help support it as it grows. If you don't want a poinsettia tree, simply trimming it to keep it a reasonable size every few months is all you need to do. Over time, you may need to move it into a larger pot or trim carefully to keep it in a smaller one.
The fun part comes about seven weeks before you want it to bloom again. In order to stimulate it to color up, you'll have to rigidly control the light it gets. For these pre-holiday weeks, it can't have more than twelve hours a day of any kind of light. If you have to, cover it with a box.
To make pretty, holiday-quality flowers, you will need darkness, plus cool temperatures, plus a few hours of good sunlight a day. At this point, a child old enough to remember to unbox the plant when the light is brightest can be a particpant in the reblooming of the poinsettia. A bit of care, and you'll get it bloomin' happy.
Contributing Editor Stefani Leto writes and parents in the Bay Area. Mother of an almost-five year old and an infant, she says nothing challenges her mind like parenting. Her work also appears at http://www.windowbox.com and