Poinsettia Care in the Southwest

In North America, nothing says Christmas quite like the poinsettia. Many people want to keep these lovely plants alive for as long as possible, and here are the tips and tricks to doing so.

Genes Rule Plant Behavior

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are native to the cool plateaus of central Mexico. Their origin – and thus their genes – is key to their survival in our modern homes. Many people hear “Mexico” and think of the hot desert areas or maybe Cancun, but much of Mexico is not hot, nor topical! Pine forests abound! Think of a climate much like coastal Los Angeles. Indeed, last week I shared how the Ecke’s grew and sold poinsettias from their farm on the hills of LA (post-here), so no, most poinsettias are not going to be happy outdoors in the Southwest.


Poinsettia Care Indoors

Because poinsettias are from south of the Tropic of Cancer, they are used to a fair amount of sun. But not our Southwestern summer sun! If you want them outdoors – they will need protection in summer.

Ideally place poinsettia near a well-lit window, but not so close that it gets too much sun and sunburns. East-facing windows are good so they can catch the morning’s glow and bask in the afternoon’s shade. Make sure that no part of your plant touches your windowpane, because the cold glass will freeze tissues.

Not too much! Water your poinsettia whenever you feel the soil is dry or you see that some of the leaves are wilting. The key is to let the water drain out the bottom, and make sure that your poinsettia is not sitting in water. Even in the Southwest – I water them about twice a week.

Keep temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees F. That said – keep your plant out of range of air blasts from the furnace. Skip the misting thing. They don’t need it and most companies put it in their care instructions so you will blame yourself when the plants pass on.


Saving Commercially Produced Flowering Plants

Most plants that are produced to be sold as indoor flowering plants are tough to save. They have been inundated with natural and artificial chemicals from Day One and may not have the energy or resources to survive without extensive intensive care. Poinsettia are no exception. The cuttings are shipped to growers in a little foam-like block. Those blocks preserve them when they are tiny – yet can block mature growth.

If you want to get your poinsettias to re-bloom – I will cover that next week and post the link – here.

You could plant your poinsettias outdoor in the Southwest once all chance of frost is past. Plant in well-drained (sandy) soil. Place them where they will never get afternoon sun in the summer. I kept some alive for three years under a palo verde tree, and they re-bloomed in autumn after the first year, delighting butterflies. The fourth year was a scorching summer and they passed.

Think of your poinsettias as bouquets with roots. Enjoy them and then let them go to the compost heap. Thrifty? Well, you can add the soil to your garden.


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soule-southwest-gardenMore about growing colorful flowers (outdoors) every month of the year in this book: Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press).  This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.

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