How to make poinsettias the stars of your home this Christmas

Expert tips to keep poinsettias alive and healthy for longer

The poinsettia (or Mexican Flame Tree or Christmas Star, as it is also known) is synonymous with the festive season but keeping the plant alive long enough to see Christmas Day can be a challenge. However, the experts at the Royal Horticultural Society, and Stars for Europe poinsettia growers all say that with heat and affection, the houseplant is not just for Christmas. Here, then, is our choice of poinsettias with which to decorate your home, and our essential guide to help you keep these beautiful blooms alive long into new year.

Buying and caring for poinsettias

Inspect the plant carefully before buying and never buy from open-air stalls; poinsettia are tender plants and will not last if they stand in the cold for any length of time.

Plants will last longer if you buy ones that are still in bud; dense; foliage and yellow-green flower buds are signs of freshness.

The flowers are not the coloured leaves, which are called bracts; they are the little buds in the centre. If these buds are wilted, select another plant.

Check that the lower leaves are not shrivelled or yellow, and that the lower branches were not cracked when the plant was put in its plastic sleeve.

Give the poinsettia a further protective layer of wrapping when taking it home. Poinsettia originally came from Mexico and they thrive in warm temperatures, not wind, cold or draughts. Pack them and take them home carefully, as quickly as possible. Do not leave poinsettias in the car all day, or overnight.

Poinsettias like the warmth of centrally heated homes but they should be kept away from direct heat, as well as from drafty windows and doors.

Poinsettias need as much light as possible during the winter and a temperature between 15C and 22C.

Keep the plants away from fruit and vegetables or their bracts will quickly wilt, says the poinsettia breeders’ association, Christmas Star.

Water with lukewarm water once every two days and if you forget, remember that too little is better than too much. Do not let water build up or let the plants stand in water, and to keep the bracts firm and colourful, add some commercial plant food to the water once a month.

As poinsettias prefer a humid atmosphere, mist the leaves and bracts once or twice a month.

In April, prune plants back to 10cm in height and replant into a slightly larger pot, with fresh compost.

During the summer months, keep the plants in a conservatory or greenhouse with a temperature of 15C to 18C.

Continue to water sparingly, just to avoid the plant drying out, and fertilise fortnightly.

Flowering is triggered by short days. Poinsettias, therefore, need to spend 14 hours a day in complete darkness, for about ten weeks from mid-October, to be ready for Christmas.

OUR CHOICE OF POINSETTIAS FROM BRITISH SUPPLIERS

‘Infinity Red’ This bright red, German-bred poinsettia is the variety you are most likely to find on sale in your supermarket. An even flowerer, easy to maintain, it grows to a height of 40cm. ‘Infinity White’ has similar characteristics and is also commonly available.

‘Bravo’ Another bright red poinsettia, which Summerfield Nurseries in Kent has been trialling recently.

‘Merlot’ Both Summerfield Nurseries and Hill Brothers grow this rich claret-coloured poinsettia.

‘Ice Crystal’ Smaller than ‘Infinity Red’ and ‘Infinity White’, this poinsettia is pinky cream in colour and sells well.

‘Premium Red’ This strongly coloured poinsettia has robust bracts and is a sturdy plant with a pleasingly rounded leaf shape. ‘Premium White’ tends to turn a creamy shade.

‘Champion Red’ A vigorous plant with holly-shaped leaves.

‘Lemon Snow’ Recommended by the RHS, this generously sized poinsettia has bright yellow bracts.

‘Glitter’ This red poinsettia with white-speckled leaves is available in 14cm or 17cm pots from Arden Lea Nurseries.

‘Christmas Feelings’ A favourite at Arden Lea Nurseries (01772 812951), this is a reliable, bright red plant that will cope with testing conditions.

Find out how to prepare and use poinsettias as cut flowers.

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