Growing Together: Faced with Poinsettia Challenge, readers blossom

FARGO - The time has come. On Dec. 20, 2014, I promised we'd meet back here in one year to report whether we could coax our poinsettias to flower again. To put my poinsettia where my mouth was, I would do the same. It's not about getting plants o...

Poinsettia flowers are triggered by long, dark nights. Carrie Snyder / Forum News Service

FARGO - The time has come. On Dec. 20, 2014, I promised we'd meet back here in one year to report whether we could coax our poinsettias to flower again. To put my poinsettia where my mouth was, I would do the same. It's not about getting plants on the cheap. It's a fun experiment watching poinsettias react to Mother Nature's cycles.

Remember that poinsettias' bloom is triggered by 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness each night in a daily cycle beginning in early October.

Let's see how it went, guests first:

- "I took the challenge and followed your directions with success. Although I cut the poinsettia back, it grew into a very large plant. When it was time for the daily darkness, I had to go to the furniture store to get a recliner chair box to cover the huge plant. It worked!" -- Cathy Nordick, Breckenridge, Minn.

- "I spent years trying to save poinsettias in Southern California and was never successful, until now in Fargo. I put four cheaply purchased plants in one pot, cut them back heavily in May, put them outside, and they sprouted from the dead-looking twigs. By August, the plant was full and robust. In early October, I moved the pot to the basement with six hours of grow lights and the rest darkness. Now it's in the living room window as a Christmas centerpiece. Thanks for the challenge. I had fun watching it thrive." -- Beverly Sumwalt, Fargo


- "We received a poinsettia from friends six years ago when my father-in-law passed away. I was surprised when it was still alive that spring, and I put it out on the north deck, where it now thrives each summer. The pot has three plants -- red, pink and white. I don't cover it, so it doesn't bloom until Easter! It's a special plant, and I'm quite proud of it." -- Kathy Strutz, Oakes, N.D.

- "For years I killed most poinsettias, until I discovered water was staying in the foil wrap. Now I poke holes in the foil and use a drainage pan. Last spring, I transplanted our poinsettia into a larger pot, and set it outside on the northeast corner. I used rain water and fertilized every three or four weeks. In late September, I moved the plant in and began covering it every evening at 5 o'clock with a black plastic garbage bag until 8 o'clock the next morning. By Nov. 5, leaves were turning red. I've enjoyed this poinsettia challenge!" -- Betty Bigger, Frazee, Minn.

- "We had a large plant which we transplanted to a larger pot in mid-May and grew it outside. It was full and beautiful. I moved it inside Oct. 1 and covered it each night. The newly developed leaves are a beautiful red color but represent only about 10 percent of the total foliage. My guess is we should have trimmed it back in August, and hopefully more shoots would have turned red." -- Cal Messersmith, Fargo

- "My poinsettia has blooms ranging from 5 to 9 inches in diameter, and it's 3 feet tall from the top of the pot. I keep the plant in a room with a southwest window. The room isn't used evenings, so it's on its own with no help from me. In summer it gets a trim and lives outside on our shady patio." -- Michelle Vidger, Fargo

- "The poinsettia challenge has been fun. The plant gets out 'on leave' during the day and then back in a hall closet at night. It appears to be on pace for Christmas." -- Butch Fangsrud, Fargo

- "We have been reblooming poinsettias for several years, and currently have 33 plants. When they finish blooming we cut them down to about 6 inches and water only slightly until the weather permits them to go outside on the north side of our garden house. We use a low-dose fertilizer each time we water. Plants are brought indoors before frost. Beginning about Sept. 15, we close the drapes (blackout type) at 4 p.m. until 8 a.m. the following morning. We continue this for six weeks until November. By Thanksgiving, some plants already bless us with beautiful blossoms. We find this project very enjoyable, and recommend it to others." -- Sister Edwardine Gerau and your faithful readers at St. Francis Convent, Hankinson, N.D.

Thank you to everyone who shared their experiences. Now, how did I do with our poinsettia? Like nearly everyone, I cut ours back in spring, repotted the plant, summered it outdoors and began the dark night treatment Oct. 1. It's large, measuring nearly 36 inches high and 36 inches wide. A bit too large for the dining room table, unless our supper guests have very long necks.

For additional tips, I visited with Tom Steele, grower with Fargo's Shotwell Floral, whom I've known for most of his 43 years with the company.


Tom emphasized that poinsettias will receive their necessary short day/long night cycle naturally when autumn days grow short. But if streetlights enter through a window (strong enough to read newspaper headlines) or if indoor lights interrupt the darkness, plants must be covered or moved to a dark closet.

Tom said overwatering is a frequent problem caused when poinsettias are kept continually moist. They should be allowed to dry out between thorough waterings, then wet the entire soil ball. Fertilize frequently because poinsettias are heavy feeders.

To prevent plants from becoming too large, Tom suggested pinching (moderately cutting back) poinsettias in mid-July to promote shorter, bushier growth.

Boy, a lot of us put a whole lot of work into getting poinsettias to bloom again. Was it really worth it? You betcha!

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether//

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