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Rescued poinsettia can be nurtured into a houseplant

Q. I rescued a poinsettia at Christmas time. It was in sad shape, but did proper watering and it came around and put forth beautiful red bracts. I’ve continued to care for it and it’s still growing. Should I repot it? Try to keep it growing? Does it need to go in a closet? What do I do for this plant? – C.H., Albuquerque

A. From your using the word bract in your question, I think you know more than you’re letting on.

For everyone else, bract is the term for the colored “leaves” that poinsettias wear once they are triggered to come into bloom. They aren’t leaves at all, but a Tracey Fitzgibbonspecialized structure that serves as “runway lights” for pollinating bugs to be guided to the flower better.

Anyway, from the photo that was sent to me, I’ll say yes, it’s time to repot. It looks like it’s living in a 4-inch pot, so I’d suggest a pot no bigger than an 8-inch pot. The pot MUST drain too. Don’t forget a saucer.

Put in a slight layer of pebbles in the bottom of the pot to keep the soil from running out, then cover the pebble layer with a little more than an inch of fresh potting soil. Make sure the original planting is fairly damp so the soil and root mass comes out of the old pot in one fell swoop.

Don’t fuss with it, knock off old soil or be rough with it at all. Set the whole clump in the new pot and gently, but firmly, backfill the pot with more fresh potting soil.

Also try to not plant the poinsettia much deeper than it was in the small pot. Once you’ve gotten the plant settled into its new home take it to the sink – stopper in – and allow tepid water to wet the fresh potting soil completely.

Let the pot sit in the water for an hour. Then pick it up, allow any water to stream away, and set it on the clean saucer.

Since you’ve been so successful keeping it alive this far, you’ve got the drill. Keep it watered, never allowing it to dry out completely. Offer your new houseplant bright light, remembering to turn the pot a half-turn weekly so it gets exercise and doesn’t lean to the light, or grow one-sided, so to speak.

On that note, stop thing about the poinsettia as a poinsettia. It’s now a house plant.

That is until, let’s say Oct. 17. On that day you are going to cover the poinsettia with a cardboard box – big enough so the plant isn’t injured – every night for the next four weeks. You’ll uncover it every morning, but cover again each night.

Or you can set the plant in a room that won’t get any artificial light at night, again for the four-week period. You’ll keep it watered as you have been.

After your committed routine of cover/uncover for four weeks, treat the poinsettia as always, and nature-willing it should come back into bloom for you, setting those colorful bracts to enjoy for the winter season.

It’s just a matter of getting the plant into a larger pot (not too big) with fresh potting soil and treating it as you would a houseplant for now.

And what ever you do, don’t put it in a closet. That would be a death sentence for the poinsettia for sure.

Happy Diggin’ In!

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to